Samaritan Woman

Abba Poemen said to Abba Joseph, “Tell me how to become a monk.”  He said, “If you want to find rest here below, and hereafter, in all circumstances say, ‘Who am I?’  And do not judge anyone.”  Abba Poemen wants to become a monk, a holy person.  So, Abba Joseph offers the counsel: in every situation repeat “Who am I?”  On top of this, do not judge anyone.  Yet, we judge people all the time.  They did so in Poemen’s time (fourth century Egypt), and we do so today.  Joseph is right, though, to tie the question of identity to judgment.  The false self, the self we all think we are, strengthens its hold by comparing itself to others, competing with others, and complaining about others.  In a word, the false self judges.  It’s a proven strategy.  Under the influence of the false self, we lift ourselves up by putting others down.  Conversely, our egos deflate if we don’t measure up, but strangely this also strengthens the false self, because then we have a target for our envy, hatred, or complaints.  Judgment makes us focus our identity on how much better or worse we are than everyone else.  

Through judgment we get stuck on the surface of life, forever ignorant of our infinite depths.  The Samaritan woman in today’s Gospel story comes to realize this.  She goes to a well to draw water, and she meets Jesus, the one who offers her “living water” turning into “a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  We are more than our judgments, more than our surface thoughts and feelings.  We are deeper than our roles, labels, and emotional needs.  The water welling up to eternal life symbolizes our real identity.  We are an infinite depth, a deep well full of divinity.  This is our true self.  Through their conversation at the well, Jesus gradually enlightens the Samaritan woman with this truth.  Now, a literary feature of this Gospel story, and others in the Gospel of John, is that the Samaritan woman is nameless.  She has no name, like the man born blind and the royal official in other stories from the Gospel of John, because she represents us.  Any character that has no name in the Gospel of John stands in for “every Christian” and for all disciples.  The enlightenment Jesus gives her, he gives us, too.

The Samaritan woman also represents the Samaritan people, who seem to have wandered from the faith of Israel by welcoming the religious practices of pagans into their land.  In the Bible, adultery is a metaphor for idolatry.  So, the Samaritan woman’s “husbands” refer to Samaria’s idolatry and not to a particular woman’s sins.  For our purposes, these five husbands are symbols of the traps of the false self.  While there are many traps, I want to name five: superficiality, boredom, cynicism, judgment, and rumination.  Most of these speak for themselves, and we covered judgment, so I want to focus on rumination.  This is thinking the same negative thought over and over again.  We circle back around it getting so preoccupied that it becomes a part of our false identity.  We even express these negative thought loops when we complain about the same thing to the same people ad nauseam.  Nursing a fixed negative emotion or thought only reinforces the false and separate self, not to mention that it makes us more miserable than before!

At a critical point in their encounter, the Samaritan woman says, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ; when he comes, he will tell us everything.”  Jesus replies, “I am he, the one speaking with you.”  This is the first time in the Gospel of John that Jesus gives us his real name: I AM.  He gives it to the Samaritan woman.  Jesus reveals his true identity to the Samaritan woman.  Jesus is intimately connected to the divine I AM, the God who revealed the divine self to be YHWH.  God is That Which Is.  This is crucial for understanding our own identity.

To that end, Jesus says to the Samaritan woman, “God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.”  In Hebrew the word for spirit is also the word for breath, “ruach.”  We worship in Spirit when we breathe YHWH.  Additionally, we worship in truth when we realize we are one with the Great I AM.  We do this, again, by breathing YHWH.  Through our breathing meditation, we drop our judgements and begin to intuit our true self.  Then, when we ask, “Who am I?” we respond with, “I am simple presence, pure being, and nondual love.”  Our I am is one with the Great I AM.  Therefore, let us return to our breathing meditation.  Take a moment to breathe deeply.  Breathe YHWH.  Breathe in, breathe out, and accept That Which Is.