Sunday in the Third Week of Lent
A liturgist, (Mark Searle) has made this challenging observation: We are not sufficiently in touch with what is happening in our lives for the liturgy to be able to speak to that experience. (1)This seem to contradict the assumptions we make about the importance of the liturgy for our Catholic belief. It may be formal, repetitive, sacrosanct in its rituals and vocabulary, but it is a reliable forum and formula for our prayer together as church. That’s all we ask of it. And we certainly think that if anyone is in touch with their experience, it is us. We are at the center of the events and drama of daily life.
But there are different ways of being in touch. Touch can be tangential, brief, and superficial. Keep in touch. Minimal awareness. It is a way of preserving order and regularity. That’s all we ask. We are selective about what merits our attention and even censor (repress) what disturbs or unsettles. There can be a lot of unlived life submerged in our experience. There is more to our experience than meets the eye. The Jesuit Paul Robb once took a hard look at what we call experience. If we are to find the living word of self, we must touch, explore, and acknowledge the sin living deeply within us. It is in the self-knowledge arising out of our struggle that we are aware of sinfulness, disorder, and unfreedom and begin to long for the liberation promised by Jesus. It is in these kinds of life experiences much more than in not living up to external expectations and laws that we discover the roots of our sin… It is an affective, intimate understand of self. It is the kind of felt knowledge we have when we desire to care but honestly do not find ourselves caring, when we would like to love freely but find ourselves possessive or clinging or dominating. It is the kind of knowledge that touches a place in us where we know that something is happening, and is important, but often we do not know what it is or how to handle it. (2) We find it less troublesome to leave the boundaries intact and run off to town (like the disciples) for supplies and nurturance. There can be a lot happening that we shut off.
Jesus violated all kinds of boundaries in our Gospel when he sat down at the well: personal, social, national, and religious. The woman was surprised. The disciples were so shocked when they returned and found him exchanging words and drink with a Samaritan woman that they retreated into silence. At first defensive and verbally sparing, the woman was finally moved into a deep admission that unleashed a new way of seeing and living. Admission is a two-way door. We let something in and we let something out. It unlocks passages and allows for transformation. The conversation of Jesus with the woman is an archetypal model of how He and the liturgy lead us into depths (the well is deep) of being known and loved. Being known and loved as we are.
Delving into the truth of ourselves is not always pleasant or euphoric. We can feel that we have been hung out to dry, led into a desert place and left to die of thirst. Did you lead us out of Egypt to die of thirst in the wilderness? Often we do not know what is happening or how to handle it. Maybe then the conversation can move to a new level. The buckets we have brought aren’t going to be able to contain what is really at play. We are tapping into a breadth and depth of experience that we have left unlived and unexamined. All that I have ever done.
Our “spirituality” or “theology” is no longer a substitute for real experience. The liturgy of our lives, our worship in spirit and truth, flows out from the well spring of the Spirit poured out into our hearts, into the life we live in this world. Is the Lord in our midst or not? I will be standing there in front of you. The spirit we drink is a spirit of unconditional love, of God’s non-judgementalism and interest in us which uncorks a freedom to live in a new way (repent). Sometimes this gift seems to be too overwhelming and we try to go back to our buckets of resentment, discrimination, and isolation. Safer to come out at noon when nobody else is there. More demanding to let the liturgy speak to our experience, to have heard for ourselves.
- Mark Searle, “Journey of Conversion” WORSHIP 54 (1980.
- Paul Robb, “Conversion as a Human Experience” STUDIES IN THE SPIRITUALITY OF JESUITS (May, 1982).