Like Samara, I too have a heightened consciousness of: 1) our “racialized” world and my place in it; 2) the female condition in a patriarchal society and how I’m affected by it; 3) one’s relentless thirst for Christ while yet involved in a well-established religious system; and 4) my passion to tell others how they too can encounter Christ for themselves.
This historic moment recorded in John 4 was started when a certain Jewish man asked a certain Samaritan woman for a simple drink of water. But it wasn’t that simple. It was a divine encounter if there ever was one. Jesus invited Samara to drink from a wellspring (that is, living water) that can be inside of us rather than outside. The Wellspring he offered Samara must have been refreshing for someone like her who probably had to walk a significant distance every day to “bottle” her water supply. But I can just imagine how surprised she was to discover that the living water he was speaking of was Jesus himself.
My first gulp of this living water still remains fresh in my mind, although it was over sixteen years ago. The remembrance of my divine encounter with Christ was recently enthused during an unusual conversation with my sixteen-year-old niece.
I was awakened by a phone call from my niece in the middle of the night. She was sobbing. While I was alarmed, I tried to softly speak her name, remain calm, and patiently wait for her to respond. The five seconds of speechless crying further tested my composure, but she finally broke through with words I could just make out, saying, “Aunt Keesha, nothing’s wrong . . .” It was past 2 A.M., and I wasn’t totally convinced. My harassing questions must have betrayed my pseudo-coolness because she firmly interrupted to reassure me that “everything's okay." She went on talking amidst her many tears, in a soliloquy-type fashion, offering me her apologies for her repeated episodes of rebellion and resistance against the love and witness of Christ that she received while living in my home for more than three years.
This baby, my baby, expressed her deep need for God and her desire to have him in her life. Before calling me, she had emotionally expressed her gratitude to my sister — her mom. My sister is a single mother, raising my niece and my niece’s eleven-year-old sister, and my sister’s last four years of teen anger and rebellion from her older daughter had come to a head. My niece had encountered the liberating Christ for herself. It was not another occasion wherein she was being grilled about Christ by my family or me. Not this time. Christ had touched her, and she wanted to know about his living water that could spring up life inside of her. Just like Samara, she seemed to be purging all the clutter that she thought could be clogging her soul.
That sweeping moment on the phone with my niece had completely sobered me from my sleepy stupor and, although nine hundred miles apart, I felt close to her as we wept together. In the conversation that ensued, she asked me how to “do it.” What she wanted to know was how one continually walks with God and lives for him among people who do not live the same way. And how will these people know how to "accept” you once your life takes a drastic spiritual change? She went on to ask what she had to do to have God in her life right then and where she should go from that point.
Her sincere questions took me back to when I was sixteen and starting to abandon “everything” to follow Christ. (I laugh as I remember throwing out my collection of Hip/Hop and R&B, because I understood such an action to be a sign of following Christ! If only it was that easy!) I was pleased to fill in some of her blanks with answers I’ve found in Scripture and through my own transformation. I was happy to assure her of my love, forgiveness, and availability, as well as to offer my apologies for the numerous times I was impatient with her for being a stubborn teenager. And I was more pleased to tell her what my mama had told me when I was her age. Mama said, “You have to get to know him for yourself and tell him that you will follow him wherever he leads. Baby, God wants you to tell him yes with your very life.” At times Mama called it “a total yes.” I remember hearing these words, and they sounded so very serious! And truly they are serious.
Getting to know God and telling him yes has been key in my Christian life. I’m learning that my first affirmative to Christ’s call for me as a teenage girl was just the beginning of a lifetime of responses I have to give him. More specifically, I find that he desires a total yes on a daily basis. It's been sixteen years now, and I still haven’t been able - as I would like - to effectively bottle Christ like we do some inspirational folk heroes. For example, I am increasingly seeing Che' Guevara’s image blitzed on T-shirts and the rear windows of vehicles. Society can easily immortalize these Che-type heroes, studying their lives as if what they read is the sum total of the person. Often times, our knowledge about heroes can mislead us to assume that we personally know them, when in truth we only know things recorded about them.
But Christ does not offer himself as a mere revolutionary-type hero to read about, immortalize, and imitate. Christ gives us the same invitation that he offered Samara: that he can live inside us like a wellspring. Indeed, Christ is the limitless God, who is like a mighty river that never stops flowing. So I can never get him to fit into my finite water bottle to quench my deep spiritual thirst.
Like Samara, I thirst for God, but I also ask God the “where” or “exacts” of worshiping him so that I can get it down pat and say that I’ve taken hold of him. But it is both relieving to my thirst and frustrating to my religious ego when I always find that there is a fresh source of him that I haven’t begun to know yet. I simply cannot please God if I do not trust him through Christ and follow Christ’s lead!
It is important to note here that Christ walked the path that took him up a hill called Calvary, where he obeyed God and died a criminal’s death for a world that didn’t seem to notice. My daily response of yes with my life is merely following his lead.
The apostle Paul summarized it best in Philippians 3:8-14 (NRSV):
More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his take I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I might attain the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but press on to make it my own, because Christ has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ jesus. (Emphasis Mine)
It’s comforting to know that Paul can vulnerably say that he didn’t know all of Christ, even after being “caught up to the third heaven” (2 Corinthians 12:2, NRSV). But, it’s not about possessing a static water-bottled Jesus. Christ has promised to be a well springing up inside of anyone that drinks of him.
While Paul readily connects knowing Christ with his triumphal resurrection and his dreadful suffering to the point of death, could Christ really want us to identify with him in this same way? Christ didn’t hesitate to tell his disciples that “if any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25, NRSV). There is no denying that he doesn’t leave much room for water-bottle spirituality. Nothing less than a wellspring will do for the spiritually thirsty.
This is precisely why I love Samara’s redemption story of faith in Christ. Her dialogue with Christ shows me what it looks like to long for Christ - who is dynamic - and find him in the most unsuspecting place, as the most unsuspecting person, talking with the most unsuspecting people. Surely he is the Christ we are looking for.
I find it easy some days to not live by faith but rather to look for some well-packaged Jesus in various-sized water bottles that I feel I can handle. But I’m glad Christ will not allow me to stay in a stagnant place. I’m convinced that the way to never thirst is to always thirst for him as the Wellspring that he is rather than the bottle of spring water that I want to make of him. Samara inspires me daily to abandon my water bottles and “press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (Philippians 3:12 NIV).
The woman then left her water pot, went her way into the city, and said to the men, “Come, see a Man who told me all things that! ever did. Could this he the Christ?” John 4:28-29
One of my favorite Bible stories has been the dialogue between Jesus and the unnamed Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. I guess it is a cherished story to me because I identify with this nameless woman in various ways. I have audaciously given her the name Samara (pronounced Sah-MARE-ah), which is of Hebrew origin and means “guarded by God; ruled by God; mountain; outlook; seedling.”