At the well.
There she was. The woman wearing red, looking lost, as she searched in the well. Water that seemed muddled by the elements, but clear enough to see a distorted reflection. I saw her sitting with one hand resting on the brick, holding her body up, while the other had grasped onto an empty jug of water.
This painting. How it moves me.
As I was searching for an image of the woman at the well, I came across many beautiful works of art- incredibly done, and extremely recognizable, but none that made me ache quite as much as this one.
She doesn’t look like the typical Samaritan woman. Her clothes are not of the time, and her hair style didn’t seem to match either, but that’s what made her so real. She looks like me, she looks like you.
I’m able to feel her longing. As she looks down at her reflection, she seems lost - stuck in the same life she had yesterday, and the day before- trapped without newness. The brushstrokes of her face are dark, but her exhaustion is even more visible because if it. Was there anything left for her after the life she had led? Who was she? Who could she be?
All these questions echoed into the water of the well.
What a special glance into the journey of the Samaritan woman- a part of her life when she has not yet encountered Christ, where she has not yet let go of her water jug to go tell everyone who she just met. Before she knew she would never have to thirst again, she stared into the water of unsatisfaction, maybe wondering if that full empty space was all she had left.
As I prayed with this, I sat there with her. Thinking of the times when I was stuck just gazing at my reflection, sometimes an image I found difficult to look at, in well water. I sat with her waiting, maybe even hoping that something more could come for us. How beautiful and painful it was to watch her- as her gaze was like an open wound of the surface of the water.
And she found hope. Her inherent dignity. She found the water that would satisfy her.
Saint John Paul II wrote a poem based on this account. He called it Song of the Brightness of Water. Song- a word related to rejoicing. A celebration of recognizing truth, beauty, and goodness.
He speaks of the emptiness she first felt as she came to simply fetch water, but how her views changed once she met the man who knew all she had done. How she experienced a brightness which she hadn’t before. A brightness which was able to cast out her regrets.
A song of the brightness of water which allows her to leave the water jug behind, and thirst no more.
Song of the Brightness of Water
From the depth—I came only to draw water
in a jug—so long ago, this brightness
still clings to my eyes—the perception I found,
and so much empty space, my own,
reflected in the well.
Yet it is good. I can never take all of you
into me. Stay then as mirror in the well.
Leaves and flowers remain, and each astonished gaze
brings them down
to my eyes transfixed more by light
than by sorrow.
(The image of "Woman at the Well" by joseph kleitsch can be found at http://www.paintinghere.org/painting/woman_at_the_well-29706.html; the poem "Song of the Brightness of Water" is from The Place Within: The Poetry of Pope John Paul II, pages 37-38.)