Life can be strange at times, and living as one for whom depression is an ongoing, though not always debilitating condition has its own quirks and foibles, as anyone who lives with this condition can probably tell you. One of the greatest struggles I have in dealing with this is the struggle with myself. I want to be strong, I want to be healthy and competent and useful, but of course there are times when I am not, (which goes for all of us if we are really honest) and when I am not I need some one who sees and accepts me just as I am and helps me to see and accept myself.
I believe that Jesus does just this for the woman in today’s Gospel reading ( based on the lectionary). I find that I connect with her story in a number of ways; midday was not the time when you would have gone to draw water, she has gone alone, neither in the cool of the morning or the evening, the heat of the sun would have made her uncomfortable, and could even be dangerous! Her isolation is not desirable and yet it is real, causing us to question why she would go at such a time; and as the story unfolds and we are told of her multiple relationships we must wonder if she has been excluded by her contemporaries, or whether she has excluded herself out of fear or shame.
Depression can cause exclusion, it tells us lies, whispers that nobody will understand, that you won’t be believed, that you are weak, incompetent, and useless. I have had days in the past where I have not ventured out, and hidden away not having the strength to reach out for help. I have had days when I have gone out, but worn a carefully prepared facade, a smile masking what is going on underneath the surface, and then beaten myself up for not being strong enough to be honest, yet being honest is hard, I remember being told once to “buck up”, because ” nobody wants a depressed minister” !
Back to the Samaritan woman, at the well in the heat of the day, where thirst and necessity have driven her, she encounters a stranger, and yet appears unafraid, perhaps because his first act is to ask her for help, but as the conversation unfolds she is the one who receives more. I wonder what it was like for her to simply be seen and accepted, to be told the truth about herself and yet not condemned, while she tried to deflect Jesus by engaging him in religious debate, he breaks through her exterior defences and tells her exactly what he sees, offering her life giving spiritual water as a balm for her soul.
She went for water, expecting to encounter her own solitude in her daily routine, but instead she met with one who could tell her all about herself and set her free, free from the nagging voices and doubts that might have plagued her, free from fear of exclusion as she sped back to the village to share the news of this man and what he had said.
So how do I find myself in her story? First I have to own where I am, and for today that means owning the fact that I am a little shaky, and somewhat emotionally and spiritually exhausted, and as I approach the place of prayer, my spiritual well, I must be open enough to say , that it is not well with my soul, for at the moment the lies of depression are whispering louder than I can bear, and so it is these that I must bring. The woman did not deny her 5 marriages, nor her current relationship, none of which drew condemnation or even comment from Jesus beyond the facts themselves, so I must not deny my feelings, but must bravely hold them for today this is who I am.
This is who I am, there is strength in honesty, there is a bravery in saying I am not okay, and there is healing in simply being accepted, but you need to be in a very safe place for that to happen and our society is not always that safe, misconceptions abound and judgements are made, weakness is assumed, as fragility is neither desired or understood.
I have lived through these days before, and because I have I am seeking to be gentle with myself, accepting myself and calling myself brave for going for a swim one day while not beating myself up for being unable to do so the next, allowing myself to take things one day at a time, and doing those things that give me life. Oddly writing this helps!
The truth is that the Samaritan woman was wounded, not by her encounter with Jesus, but through her encounter with life, I believe that she met Jesus not in spite of her wounds but because of them, to quote Augustine :
” In my deepest wound I saw your glory and it dazzled me”.
So shocked was she by the dazzling acceptance and life that she found in Jesus that she forgot to fill her water jar, running back to the village to call others out into a similar encounter. I can truly identify with that for sometimes my darkest days have a luminous quality when I dare to drop my mask. Though uncomfortable and disorienting, this darkness is not bad, in fact, it may even be womb-like. This darkness is not the end of faith but holds the dawn of a new kind of faith. This dark night of the soul might even guide me into the divine mystery that lies beyond understanding, answers, or explanations, a place where I am held and accepted just as I am.
Today I approach the well again, not as I want to be, but as I am, and in doing so I seek to accept and love myself, that through my wounds I might encounter glory, though not too bright because I am not ready for that just yet!