By Sister Janet McCann, ASC
John Philip Newell, in his book, New Harmony, has a chapter titled, “Digging God Out.” In it, he recounts Etty Hillesum, writer and Holocaust victim, who spoke of God dwelling in an inner well within every human being. There are times, however, when the well is blocked with stones and grit, and she said, “God is buried. He must be dug out again.”
Etty’s image brought to mind a retreat I made years ago which included John’s gospel story of The Woman at the Well. I read the familiar passage, and observed the extraordinary encounter between Jesus and the woman.
I reflected on his words, “Woman, if you only knew the gift that God is offering, and who it is that asks you for a drink…” As I reread and reimaged the scene, I was the one at the well, and I was the one experiencing the encounter. At one point, I lowered the bucket down into the well, and while I was able to gather plenty of water to drink, I noticed that the bucket stopped part way down. I knew the well was cavernous, and I could hear more life-giving water bubbling underneath, but sediment prevented the bucket from going down into the depths.
I left the retreat that year carrying this compelling image with me, and it stays with me to this day. I’ve come to know that the gift offered in that encounter, and in every encounter with Jesus, is access to a deeper, more profound space within me in which God dwells, and where my most authentic self lives.
The attending to what blocks access to this sacred space is a significant metaphor for my ongoing transformation. I know the gift is worth it all, but I wish I understood why the stones and the grit of my life seem to collect almost effortlessly, while the task of clearing the sediment away, again, and again, can feel painstaking and never ending.
During Lent, I am recommitting to the work of uncovering my truest self and the God who dwells in the midst of it all. I’ve heard it said that transformational work is not for the faint of heart. My sediments, exactly.