The grace we are asking of God: To have confidence in the way God accepts us even in our sin, to believe in his path for us that weaves its way through forgiveness and mercy, and to have the courage to turn to the One who alone can give us all we need instead of trying to fix ourselves.
Horizons of the Heart: Horizons of the Heart is a weekly retreat-in-life inspired by the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius, Donec Formetur by Blessed James Alberione, and my own notes from my thirty-day Ignatian retreat in 2022.
There is a mysterious passage in the book of Jeremiah:
“My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold water” (2:13).
Jesus, the spring of Living Water, watches us as we so often dig our own cisterns, our own wells, from which we hope to draw water that will satisfy our thirst, make us happy, give us life, at least a tolerable life on this earth. In the Gospel of John, we meet the woman in Samaria who was just such a woman. To tell you the truth, so am I.
The Samaritan woman is the woman of the tryst with Jesus. A tryst is defined as “a private romantic rendezvous between lovers.” The story of Jesus’ meeting with this woman is just such a story of love, of romance in the highest degree. Her story is the story of the romance of the heart of God: “Yes, she has forsaken me, yes, she has dug her own cisterns, yes, her attempt at managing things to create happiness out of her broken cistern has failed, yes she is unhappy, and a thousand times YES, I the Living Water am thirsting for her love.”
Before her rendezvous with Jesus how many things had this woman tried to get her life right, she the woman of five husbands, of failed love, of broken marriages? That is the way of us humans. We think we have to find our own water, dig our own wells, and provide for all our own needs.
Then in a flash. In an epiphany. When she saw herself through the eyes of God. When she knew herself suddenly to be truly valued and eternally infinitely unconditionally loved by this man sitting on the side of the well, this man who knew her whole story and loved her anyway.
I prayed Psalm 103 as the Samaritan woman may have prayed it after this life-changing tryst with the Lord.
From the depths of my being I will praise him. I will never ever forget his acts of kindness to me. He forgave me, cured me, redeemed me from the abyss. He crowned me with his faithful love and contented me with good things. He made me young again!
Jesus was eager to forgive me. He sought me out. He was waiting for me in my shame.
The Lord is tenderness, pity, rich in faithful love and slow to anger. He didn’t treat me as my sins deserve nor repay me as befitted my offense. He is a faithful lover. He treated me with the tenderness of a good father for his beloved child. He threw my faults away so I could see them no more. He remembered I was made of dust.
Though I bloom today and as soon as the wind blows I am gone, Jesus’ faithful love is from eternity and for ever! (cf. Psalm 103)
Jesus, the one who sought out this woman whose heart was broken by forsaken lovers, this Jesus who sought her out, seeks out you and me.
The Samaritan woman no doubt had tried to get her life straightened out, at least enough to make a respectable presentation in the village. Wouldn’t you? I would. I do!
Self-improvement can be truly helpful, but it is love that heals. It is a Lover who knows all we can become if we but take some time for this romantic rendezvous with him. It is not just his teaching, his words. It is the look of the Lover, the look of Jesus, that unsettles us.
The grace is in the present moment of tryst with Jesus. Jesus sees us and wants us to return his gaze with love. Even with all the fumbling in that long conversation in the fourth chapter of John, the Samaritan woman teaches us the attitude to have before Jesus who is asking also for a drink:
Listen to him
Enter into conversation with him
Allow yourself to be moved by his presence.
Jesus is sitting at the well of your daily life. He says to you also, “I am thirsty. Give me a drink.” Where is he? you might be thinking. I assure you, just as Jesus planned that meeting with the suffering woman of Samaria, probably for days ahead of that meeting organizing things to be there for her at just the right time when she would arrive, Jesus is doing the same for you.
So expect him.
Tell Jesus you are expecting him and ask him to clearly show himself to you this day.
Pay attention to the ways you are internally moved unexpectedly. Perhaps it is the conversation with a friend, something you hear on the radio or see around you, a passage you read in Scripture, or the sense of how you feel touched with God’s presence in Eucharistic adoration…
Stay with these moments and allow yourself to be unsettled by Jesus’ presence, by his gaze as it rests on you.
Allow Jesus to touch you deeply, to draw you out of yourself and away from the poison of your past and the delusion of your broken wells. Jesus knows your story so be honest with him about it. Talk to him about all you have experienced. Jesus loves you so much. He desires you to know how much his Father loves you.
Believe he has a path for you still.
Most importantly, receive the moment of revelation. Epiphany. Not a message of how much better you are or will be. No. The revelation he gave to the Samaritan woman is what your heart longs for: “The one you are looking for? I am he.” The one you are seeking for. The one who will satisfy you completely. The one who will fill your heart in every way. This one whom you are looking for. I. Am. He.”
Underneath all the things you long for, all the ways you wish were different, underneath all your plans for the future, there is a greater desire and more urgent longing that will truly satisfy you.
“I am he. I am the one you are looking for. I am the one who saves, redeems, forgives, and makes new. I am he.”
Look into his eyes as did the Samaritan woman. To those who met Jesus, his eyes conveyed immediately that he could be trusted. You too can trust Jesus with yourself, your past, your present, your future. You can trust him because he loves you. He plans these trysts with you each day so that you will know just how much he loves you.
Pray Psalm 103 as an act of faith, a prayer for gratitude.
The Gospel of John tells us little about the Samaritan woman after this tryst with Jesus except that she rushed back to her village and told her neighbors to come with her to meet this man who told her everything she had ever done:
Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” They came out of the town and made their way toward him.
…Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers.
They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”
This woman of Samaria evangelized the people of her village on the basis of her great joy in what he had done for her. After Jesus ascended into heaven, tradition holds that she evangelized in Carthage and Rome and died as a martyr in the first persecution under Nero. Tradition also gives us her name: Photina which means Enlightened. In the Preface for the Third Sunday of Lent, the Sunday on which the Gospel of the Samaritan woman is read, the Church refers to light as fire, a fire that burned, a fire Jesus kindled in her which was so great she was propelled to share it:
“For when he asked the Samaritan woman for water to drink,
he had already created the gift of faith within her
and so ardently did he thirst for her faith,
that he kindled in her the fire of divine love.”
The Samaritan woman found herself that day on the threshold between her past and her future, both of which Jesus knew all about. Both of which Jesus cared about. All of which Jesus provided for.
Each meeting, each tryst we have with Jesus is a moment of grace. These trysts are thresholds or frontiers that divide two different stages of life, rhythms, atmospheres, dreams for who we are and could be.
There are some important questions we can ask ourselves here on this threshold with Jesus. I take these from John O’Donohue, Irish poet and author, in his book To Bless the Space Between Us. “At any time you can ask yourself: At which threshold am I now standing? At this time in my life, what am I leaving? Where am I about to enter? What is preventing me from crossing my next threshold? What gift would enable me to do it?”
To what new frontier in your life does Jesus bring you? Wonderful questions we can reflect on. Where am I standing today between the past and the future? What am I leaving behind? What is Jesus calling me to leave behind? What is he giving me the grace to leave behind? How is he freeing me? What frontier, what new horizon am I about to enter? Where is he calling me to? What gift is he giving me?
As I stand on this threshold between the past and the future, I might feel resistance. I might feel discouragement. I might feel weakness. I might feel “I don’t want to!”
What is preventing me from crossing this next threshold of my life? As we see in this Gospel of the Samaritan woman, when Jesus calls us to a threshold, he calls us to something wonderful. As humans we see the tragedy, the difficulty, of what we must leave behind. Jesus sees what he wants to give us, where he is calling us. It is always beautiful.
We can ask Jesus, “What gift do I need? What gift do you want to give me that would enable me to cross this threshold this day?” This is a great question to reflect on in these next few days. To what new threshold is God bringing you to at this stage of your life?
O’Donohue continues: “It is wise in your own life to be able to recognize and acknowledge the key thresholds: to take your time; to feel all the varieties of presence that accrue there; to listen inward with complete attention until you hear the inner voice calling you forward. The time has come to cross.”
The time has come to cross your next threshold. Jesus is there. He is waiting for you there. And he is waiting for you in the future he has planned for your life.
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