From the Gospel of John:
Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
(From the Santoral Lectionary – John 4:26 (NRSV) – May 8, 2013.)
Note: Today, my verse for contemplation isn’t from the Daily Office Lectionary. It’s from the sanctoral lectionary for the commemoration of Julian of Norwich. Today is the 23rd anniversary of my ordination to the Sacred Order of Deacons; we used the lessons for Julian’s feast. So, I took the personal prerogative of reading those lessons this morning.
Jesus and an unnamed Samaritan woman are conversing by a village well where she, an unmarried woman apparently living in an adulterous relationship, has come to draw water at a time when other women will not be present. He, a Jew traveling through this hostile countryside, in contravention of Law and custom, has spoken to her. At the end of what must have been the oddest conversation of her life, he drops this bombshell: “I am the Messiah.” I’m sure she could hardly believe her ears!
Yesterday I spent the afternoon at a conference for clergy in which the presenter at the opening session asked us to engage in a bit of silent reflection, first to remember our sense of call (when did it happen? has it faded? when did it start to fade? what is different, then and now?), and then to call to mind the ways in which we feel bound up and exiled from that original sense of ministry. During our time of silent reflection, the presenter softly read selected verses from the Psalms.
As he was reading, I closed my eyes. I listened carefully to the words he was reciting. I tried to recall that growing understanding of discernment, of a sense of urgency about doing ministry as an ordained person. But a sound intruded, a rhythmic but irregular tapping, a familiar staccato, as if my consciousness were being pecked by hens the way my hands often were when gathering eggs in my grandmother’s chicken coop. I tried to ignore it . . . but there it was: tickety-tick-tick-tack, tackety-tack-tick-tick, pause, tickety tickety tickety. Pecking away at my mind. Suddenly I recognized it — the tapping of the keys on a lap-top computer not unlike the one I am using right now. I could hardly believe my ears!
I opened my eyes and searched the room. There! One of my colleagues across the room, typing away on a MacBook or a Dell or something. Apparently not listening to the speaker sonorously reciting the Psalms. Apparently not contemplating, reconnecting with his call. Not seeming present to the moment at all.
At first I was amused. I smiled. I closed my eyes again, determined to ignore the sound; now that I knew what it was, I could filter it out. — But I couldn’t. The more I tried not to hear it, the louder the typing became: TICKETY-TICK-TICK-TACK, TACKETY-TACK-TICK-TICK, TICKETY TICKETY TICKETY! I stopped smiling; I wanted to strangle my colleague! Those damned hens were pecking away at my soul!
Suppose the speaker had quietly announced in that tone of voice we all have heard, the one that cannot be denied, the one we know in the depths of our souls is speaking truth . . . suppose he had said to us, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” Would my colleague have heard it? Would I have heard it?
I don’t blame my colleague. I had arrived late, so I had left my lap-top in my car and run into the conference room just as the session had started. If I’d gotten there early, I’d probably have found an electrical outlet, plugged in my converter, fired up the ol’ MacBook, and started working on something. And when it came time to close my eyes and contemplate my sense of call, the chickens at my own hands would have pecked so loudly I’d never have heard a word of what was said.
The woman who came to the well came at a time when only she would be there. When the foreign rabbi spoke to her, she put down her bucket. She listened. She contemplated. She connected. She was present in the moment. No chickens pecked at her consciousness; no chickens pecked at her soul. She was able to hear him say, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
We need to do that from time to time. We need to do that often. We need to get away from the pecking chickens so that we (and those around us) can hear.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.