Henri Nouwen used to say that there two voices competing for his attention inside him. One encouraged him to succeed and achieve, while the other called him simply to rest in the comfort that he was the Beloved of God and it was only in the last decade of his life did he truly listen to that voice.
He went on to explain that the values of today’s Western culture – be rich, succeed, be culturally relevant, take control – when not achieved can lead to self rejection and a feeling that ‘we are not worth it’. This is a powerful voice. The other is quieter and does not leave us diminished.
I thought of his words in church today as I listened to the story of Jesus meeting a woman at a well just outside the Samaritan city of Sychar. It is one of a number of wonderful meditations that John includes in his version of the Gospel (chap. 4).
I was struck by the isolation of Jesus. He is thirsty, he can’t reach the water and his disciples have gone into the town for food. He is out of place, in alien territory, needing help and it turns up in the unexpected shape of a woman coming to draw water in the heat of the day.
She too is a picture of isolation. She approaches the well alone. She’s has been rejected by many husbands and now lives a lie with another man. She needs to face her circumstances; to be listened to and find acceptance. She seemed full of self-rejection.
The conversation between these two lonely people frames a meditation on where and how we may worship God with the conclusion that neither place nor time has much to do with it. They both speak honestly about themselves. Jesus tells her who he really is. She hides nothing from him. They meet in spirit and in truth – an authentic act of worship.
They were both listening to Nouwen’s second voice.
O God of the Quietening Evening
help me to hear the truth about myself
even when it is surprising.
Guide me toward the moment
when I too can face that I am your Beloved;
but please be patient with me
if I take a lot of time
to believe it’.