Sunday, 27 March 2011

Strumming my pain with his fingers

I heard he sang a good song, I heard he had a style.
And so I came to see him to listen for a while.
And there he was this young boy, a stranger to my eyes.
Strumming my pain with his fingers,
Singing my life with his words,
Killing me softly with his song,
Telling my whole life with his words.

Today's gospel reading of the Samaritan woman who has a life changing encounter with Jesus at the well always brings  to mind for me the song below. The emotions conveyed, of an intimacy that is almost unbearable and of a feeling of being completely known and understood, sum up what might of been the response of so many of the fallen women of the gospel to someone who reached out in complete knowledge and love.
I think that the Samaritan woman at the well would have faced a lot of pain in her life and that she lived with "dark despair". Those who met her would not have seen the pain or the despair, but only have seen those things which they felt made her unworthy and perhaps less than human to them. I expect she tried to conceal her past as much as she could, that she lived with secrecy and fear of others knowledge being used as a weapon against her.
The moment at the well when Jesus tells her all the details of her life and yet reaches out to her is so intimate it is almost sexual, although the love shown is completely  pure and holy. Many mystics have portrayed God as a lover, it is not for nothing that his suffering and death have been termed the passion, and in this encounter Jesus woos the woman's soul with knowledge, power and love - and I think a certain audacity and panache!


  1. I've never thought of the lyrics this way but on lisetning to the whole song it is actually a good description of what many Christians describe as 'being convicted of their sin' when they become Christians. love this post - has really got me thinking!

  2. A beautiful blog for a beautiful song and a beautiful passage.
    Thank you for a new insight into such a well known reading.

  3. I have and I haven’t found this passage an inspirational read. For one, like much in John’s Gospel, it raises awkward questions about the narrative of the Synoptic in that the emphasis of the latter is that the Christ must first reveal himself to the Jews before going on to the Gentiles. Yet here we see Jesus happy to proclaim he is the Christ to Gentiles – and we’re only at chapt 4 of the Gospel!

    Your own comments have a little of the ‘Humpty-Dumpty or ‘Three Wise Men’ syndrome about them. i.e. mention Humpty-Dumpty and we all think of a giant egg; mention the Wise Men and we think of three bearded Orientals on camels, wearing turbans. Yet in the nursery rhyme there is no mention of Humpty-Dumpty being an egg; nor in Matthew’s Gospel is there any mention of the number of ‘wise men’, nor their penchant for ungulates and linen headgear; these attributes have been assumed through cultural discourse and myth. The fact we accept them without question is what is worrying!

    ‘[the] Samaritan woman... has a life changing encounter with Jesus’ – does she? There is no evidence for this, it is just presumed. ‘the Samaritan woman at the well would have faced a lot of pain in her life and that she lived with "dark despair".’ Again this is a presumption. What I think is particularly interesting about the Gospel narratives is how there are a goodly number of ‘fallen women’; women who, shall we say, have been free with their favours. Yet I cannot think of ONE example of a man chastised for sexual misdemeanours or having led a promiscuous life and then had a ‘life changing’ encounter with Jesus. Men are portrayed as being sinful in their relationship with money or wealth or integrity, but we don’t hear any stories of a man repenting of his life visiting prostitutes or committing adultery. Which perhaps says something about the preoccupations of the authors of the Gospels!

    I do find it a moving story – a lot of our own angst is caught up with trying to understand ourselves. A good deal of our ‘Christian’ effort is put into trying to create an equilibrium between our inner and outer selves, and our past and present. A good portion of our desire for God’s forgiveness, is in truth a desire to forgive ourselves. Hence to meet someone who can tell us about ourselves is indeed awesome. It is an interesting passage, but I would caution getting too wrapped up in ‘Jesus the psychoanalyst’. Sometimes we just need to see where we ‘are’ to be given the push to move on!

    One last think, just as an aside, I read through the NIV version of the passage you’d provided via a link and came across vs 23

    “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth...”

    The verse had the feel of an example of the liberties the NIV translators take from time to time (the NIV remains one of my favourite translations, yet I have grown wary of its foibles and just the ‘feel’ of this verse was enough to suggest it wasn’t kosher). The contentious phrase is ‘worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth’; the Greek reads ‘worship the F(f)ather in spirit and in truth’. This may seem a rather slight change, but it is clear the NIV translators are imbibing the narrative with a reference to the Triune nature of God, which is just not in the text. The NIV has a habit of taking such liberties – hence caution is needed when using the translation. The NRSV gives a much more authentic rendering of the verse.

  4. Hi Peter,
    My comment on this is intended to be more personal and interpretative, and indeed to offer a creative, tangential insight rather than a scholarly overview. No, we can't assume the woman lived with dark despair, but it was a period in which women were disproportionately judged for sexual misdemeanours - or even just for their gender - so she may have done and we are told Jesus spent much of his time with those who were outcasts. Leaving that aside, whether she did or not, that does not mean the passage cannot speak to those who feel judged, or excluded or who have had difficult or chaotic lives - or who simply long to be known and still loved rather than judged. I don't believe that scripture is inerrant anyhow and, within reason, I am as interested in what we may find in it that creates meaning for us as anything else.

    I think one of the remarkable things in the gospels is that there is NOT a huge focus on women's (innate) sinfulness, there is more a preoccupation - if you call it that - on the way women are judged unfairly by those who are their equals in sin, "let he who is without sin cast the first stone" or how even those with a dubious reputation can be capable of more love and devotion than your average upright and law abiding Pharisee!
    As for no stories of men repenting of adultery - well, men are told that if they so much as look at a woman with lust they are adulterers and that if they divorce their wives then their wives subsequent adultery - and often prostitution- is their moral responsibility.

    I don't see how you can say that the Samaritan woman is not presented as a life changing encounter? She did leave her water jug behind (after a long walk in the midday heat?) to rush back and tell everyone. Also she is promised "life giving water" and that she will never thirst - obviously not literally - I think having your spiritual/ emotional thirst quenched would count as pretty life changing!

    It may be that you accept that it is PRESENTED this way, but that you are arguing that the reality may have been different and that John is presenting the story with a gloss - neatly factoring in the metaphor of life giving water (cleansing, redeeming, satisfying thirst etc) - but that is quite another issue. In response to that I would refer you to the point above, that I do see scripture as holding rich seams of "meaning" as much (indeed more than) historical fact and that my interest is in the way we interpret and "make meaning" in return.

  5. Suem

    Thanks for this. It is good to hear a woman’s view on a particular passage of Scripture. However, I think it is not hard to see there is bias towards women being seen as the ones who are singled out for particular ‘sins’. Yes, there is the injunction for men not to look at woman sinfully, but there are no examples of men being individually named or mentioned as having been afflicted by sexual sin. That said, there is nothing in the Gospels that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute – this is just a tradition, like the three wise men or Humpty Dumpty being an egg!

    There is nothing to say whether the Samarian women did or did not have a life changing event. It is presumed – I was just being pedantic: tho’ if I wanted to be really pedantic, I could ask who noted this conversation if there was only Jesus and the woman at the well... But that would be rather boring.

    I agree, it is a beautiful story and there is much we can take from it. But little in the Gospels grabs me these days, I have spent the last three decades squeezing what I can from the Bible and perhaps I have just squeezed it dry...


  6. Hi Peter,
    Yes you are rather being a bit of a grumpy pants about the gospel :) (only teasing) I guess that does in part reflect your disillusion with religion. I am sorry nothing in it grabs you, I am always finding new things, probably on a very superficial level though:)
    The gospels are certainly set and written in a time that was deeply misogynistic and I am very aware of misogyny in other parts of the bible - I don't find it in the gospels though and I think that is amazing given the context in which they were written. They do reflect a society where the dice was unfairly loaded against women, but reflecting a reality of life is not the same as supporting it - and the gospels don't seem to me to support a view that women are any more inherently sinful than men. For example in the case of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus challenges the (men?) who wanted to stone her to think about their own sin. The shared nature of our humanity is what is stressed, not gender or race or wealth or status - and the sins of pride and self righteousness are condemned over and above sexual sin.

    I also don't see the passage with the woman at the well as being mainly about sexual sin - it does say that the man she is living with is not her husband - but Jesus seems keen for her to see that she is known, rather than that she is judged.
    And don't all of us long to be known? Isn't this the driving force behind relationship?

    So, I see it as a passage about being known by God, about intimacy with God and that that intimacy is nothing to fear. I don't see it mainly as a passage about someone wicked who was "put right".