Today we are going to do something new and different, as you can see by the guests sitting behind me (Imam Sami Aziz, Muslim Chaplain from Wesleyan University and Co-Founder of Common Ground Insititute with his wife Vjosa Qeremi, Vice-President of Common Ground Institute & Services and founder of Abraham`s Daughters, a female interfaith collaborative based in story telling). And in our text today, Jesus did something new and different. The disciples didn’t expect Jesus to enter into a full-fledged conversation with a woman, mid-day, and especially not a Samarian woman. Not only is it unusual for a Rabbi or a Jewish man to converse with a woman in public, it is even more unusual because at this time, Jews and Samarians did not mix culturally. Everyone knew it. But with all these cultural don’t’s and taboos, the conversation Jesus has with the woman at the well from Samaria is the longest conversation Jesus has that is recorded in the Bible. So there must be something to this. To connecting across difference, especially when the world says, don’t mix.
With all the divisions in the world that kept these two from talking to one another, they had one similarity. They were both thirsty. Parched from the world. Thirsty for something beyond the divisions of their cultures, thirsty for something that can only come from God. Jesus had been traveling all day, and the disciples went into town to get some food while Jesus went to the well to get a drink. The woman is there at the 6th hour the text says, which is at high noon; the other women would have gone to the well in the morning before it got too bright. Going to the well was a social hour, but this Samarian woman avoids the social hour, leading us to believe she was stigmatized in some way. She was thirsty, for water, and for something more. Jesus says to her, “Give me a drink.” Jesus wants to share her water bottle! Another taboo. And the woman knows it, she responds, “”How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”(Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) the text specifies.
Once she gives him a cup of water, he informs her that he knows how to access living water. A wellspring of life that quenches the thirst of the soul. She is hooked. We know that we need physical nourishment, but we also need spiritual nourishment. We need rest, prayer, play, time in nature, reading scripture, silence, joyful time spent with family, listening for true voices in a sea of noise… I would consider all these things that spiritually nourish us to be forms of prayer. Prayer can happen at any time during any activity, we can always take a moment to include God consciously into our activities. Prayer is this living water, Jesus and the woman at the well both become nourished by living water through their conversation.
So in honor of this form of nourishment, in honor of Jesus speaking with someone outside of his culture, instead of just telling you about this sort of thing, I want to model it. Imam Sami and Vjosa spend so much of their time speaking with people of a different culture or religion than their own, in order to bring more peace into hearts. I have been transformed by my friendships with you both and I am so grateful you are up here willing to be in conversation with me.
1. Imam Sami, I want to ask you, how do you access this living water, or how do you connect with God on a daily basis? (Sami and Vjosa had wonderful answers to all questions that are not recorded here)
Prayer in all religions is a way to access the living water of God, the wellsprings of renewable sources that comes from God, not from our own will. You talk about going to the ground, and the experience of humbling yourself. In Matthew 26:39 when Jesus is at the hour of his death, he humbles himself completely to God, but placing his body entirely on the earth, the text says, “Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
2. Do you have other ways of connecting to God besides the praying 5 times a day?
This text has the Samaritan woman convert to following Jesus, and we don’t want to convert one another to each other’s religions. We don’t dialogue to convert one another, but to become more rooted in our own faith, and to see one another in new ways and to deepen understanding, which in itself is a form of prayer. In both Islam and Christianity there are so many different cultural forms of practicing these religions, that ecumenical dialogue can be just as enriching.
Sometimes we can offend each other in our misunderstanding, or be rude without knowing it. Mistakes are a part of engaging across culture. I confess that at one point I though the Hijab was an oppressive thing, enforced by men, in order to control women’s bodies. But in talking to Muslim women and even experiencing being covered myself, I have learned otherwise.
3. Vjosa, This woman speaks for herself in this chapter- she is maybe misunderstood by the people Jesus was traveling with. Much like Muslim woman are understood and judged for many things. The Hijab is something that is often misunderstood or judged, so could you tell us a bit about your choice to wear a Hijab, and how it connects you to God?
We will continue this conversation during Second Hour, but is there anything else you’d like to add about your experiences of creating relationships and friendships across faith or about how you access that living water of God’s presence in your own faith?
There is so much we can learn from one another and I have become so enriched and have come to understand my own faith and identity better after encountering you. When we encounter people who are different than we are, who think, look, worship, pray, speak, differently than we do, we have the ability to be transformed by God. May God bless each of you in your prayers and through your relationships. May we each follow in the path of Jesus, aware of our own thirst, and traveling to those parched places to offer living water. And may we each be like the Woman at the Well, thirsty for living water, willing to be transformed by God. Amen.