Telling the Stories that Matter: February 26 – Photina, The Samaritan Woman at the Well

Jesus had heard that the Pharisees were talking about him having baptized and made more disciples than even John–even though he had never baptized anybody with water and it had been his disciples who had done that–he left Judea and headed back toward Galilee. He decided to get there by going through Samaria. He stopped in a city called Sychar which was near the place Jacob had given to Joseph. The well Jacob had dug was there and Jesus stopped at it because he was tired and it was very warm since it was about noon.

A Samaritan woman named Photina came to get water from the well while Jesus was there but the disciples had gone to the city to get food. Jesus asked Photina for a drink and she responded: “Aren’t you a Jew? Would you really ask a Samaritan woman like me for a drink?”She knew well that Jews refused to associate or share with Samaritans.

Jesus responded, “If you really knew what was happening here, then you would have asked me and I would have given you living water.

“You have no bucket, sir, and this well is very deep so where are you going to get this ‘living water’ you’re talking about?” she asked, “Whether you like it or not, Jacob dug this well and his sons and flocks–the ones the Jews claim as only their own–drank from it. Are you greater than Jacob?”

Jesus said to her, “If anybody drinks the water from this well, they’ll become thirsty again but the water I offer is different. When you drink the water I offer, within you it becomes a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” Still not quite getting it, the woman relented and, perhaps somewhat incredulously, asked Jesus for some of his water so that she might never be thirsty again and might never have to return to the well. Jesus understood that she still didn’t quite get it and so he said to Photina, “Go, get your husband and come back with him.”Photina told Jesus in a small voice that she did not have a husband and he responded with all the truth, “You’re right when you say you have no husband but you’ve had five before and you’re living with a man now who is not your husband.” Photina was shocked and perhaps struggled to find the words, at first, but she was starting to get it.

She responded, “Sir, I can tell you’re a prophet, so answer a question for me: Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain here but you Jews say that the right place to worship is in Jerusalem. Which is correct?”

Jesus said to her, “Believe me, the time is coming when that question won’t matter. Right now, you worship what you don’t know and we worship what we know–don’t forget God’s promise to Abraham that salvation comes through the Jews. But the time is coming–in fact, it’s here right now and right at this well–when the true worshipers of God will worship God not in Jerusalem or in Samaria but in spirit and truth. This is what God desires is worship, after all. God is spirit, and those who worship God must worship in spirit and truth.”

Photina said to Jesus, “Oh, I know that Messiah–salvation–is coming and when he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.”

Jesus smiled and said to her, “I am he. I am the one you’re waiting for.”

As he said that, his disciples rounded the corner with food in their arms. They were astonished that he was speaking with a Samaritan woman by himself at the well but they knew better than to rebuke either Jesus or Photina. Photina returned to the city and gathered people to come with her saying, “You won’t believe whom I met at the well. I met a man who knew everything I had ever done. Could this one be the Messiah?” The Samaritans came out to the well with Photina.

At the same time, the disciples were urging Jesus to eat but he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” They didn’t understand what he meant. They were not quite getting it. So, he continued, “What sustains me is doing the will of God and to complete my mission and work. Don’t you say, ‘Look at the fields…only a little while longer to the harvest?’ Stop for a second and look around and you’ll see how the fields are ripe for harvest–people are ready for salvation. Some are already being brought into the fold. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ You’ve been sent out to reap and harvest what you didn’t sow. You’ve not started salvation, you’ve joined in with salvation already in progress.”
Then, the Samaritans arrived at the well with Photina and many were already placing their faith in him because of what Photina had said. They asked Jesus and disciples to stay with them and be their guests and they did so for two days. He accepted their hospitality and had many conversations with them and because of these conversations even more believed. It was then that they began to say to Photina, “It’s not just because of your words that we now believe. We’ve heard him speak to us as well because of you and we believe that this one truly is the Savior of the world.

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Telling the Stories that Matter: February 16 – Janani Jakaliya Luwum, Martyr, Priest, Enemy of Idi Amin

Janani Jakaliya Luwum knew that he carried only a letter and no weapons but he was aware that the actions he was setting himself about would carry violent repercussions. As Archbishop of the Anglican church in Uganda, he knew that critical words could very well result in his own death at the hands of the man whom his letter addressed: Idi Amin. Yet, he was gripped with a faith that said it would be better to suffer while speaking truth to the dangerous and powerful than it would be to poison his soul and mind by stifling the movement of the Holy Spirit. He had converted to Christianity when he was approximately twenty-six years old and had gone on to ministerial training the following year. Janani had taken vows before God and the Church that he would not shirk his duties as a shepherd and priest and in doing so he might have been signing his own death warrant. He was ordained a priest in 1954 and Amin came to power in 1971. Yet, Amin’s power could not deter Janani. So, he wrote a letter and personally delivered it to Idi Amin. The letter was a group effort of clerical leaders in Uganda protesting Amin’s way of keeping power and control through the easy distribution of military death to those who stood in his way. For bringing yet more attention to these deaths and disappearances–and especially for the letter–Janani was arrested and charged with treason.

It was January 16, 1977, when Janani was arrested along with two other cabinet ministers. Idi Amin and his henchmen immediately went to work spreading slander and lies about Janani’s politics and offenses. He was labeled a traitor and paraded before a crowd. As he and a large audience looked on, other men were brought onto a stage who confessed to knowing about and participating in illegal activities with Janani and his companions. Idi Amin insisted to all who would listen that Janani had been trying to initiate a coup against him and was intent on violent insurrection. The men who had confessed had never met Janani but Idi Amin had used them to implicate the Janani and his companions. The “confessors” were freed for they had done their part and there was never any intention to punish them–they were merely there to win the crowd’s approval. After the supposed “confessions” were heard, Janani and the men were put into a car to be transferred to an interrogation center. The next day, it was reported that they had crashed on their way to the interrogation center and all three had died from their injuries.

Yet, when they found the bodies and prepared them for burial they noticed that Janani had been shot multiple times are relatively close range. He had been shot once with a pistol in his mouth and three times in the chest. The story leaked out that they had been transferred to a military base where they were beaten, tortured, threatened, and finally shot to death. Idi Amin himself pulled the trigger that stole the life of Janani. He died a martyr because he refused to compromise the truth and he would not be frightened by the threats of those in power. For this offense, he died. By this offense, he proclaimed life deeper and more real than any that the world’s powers could offer.

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Telling the Stories that Matter: February 12 – Scholastica, Nun, Twin, Abbess

Scholastica had a brother that everybody had heard about. In fact, he was her twin brother and his name was Benedict. Benedict was the founder of the Rule of St. Benedict and the source of a monastic group known as Benedictines. Yet, Scholastica was reported to be every bit as devoted and pious as her brother if not more so. Yet, as a woman in the sixth century her options were severely limited. She became a nun because of her incredible devotion and faith and eventually became abbess of a community of women who followed after the rule and way of life that Benedict had discerned and pioneered. Her leadership was capable and inspired and she was known for the passion that she brought to a life of prayer and work. This passion was an inspiration to the women she led.

It was her practice to meet once a year with her brother to discuss the spiritual life and to read scripture together. The communities that they led were only five miles apart but they met on some neutral ground partly to emphasize that there was some special connection between brother and sister that was worth honoring with a change in location. The last time they met they weren’t certain that it would be a final meeting but Scholastica was aware of her own failing health. They met for longer than they ever had and even longer than they had intended to meet. They discussed scripture. They prayed together. They broke bread and communed with one another. They encouraged and challenged each other as only a brother and sister in the Faith can. Then, as night was falling Benedict got up to go and return to his monastery where he might rest in his cell. Scholastica asked him to stay even longer so that they might continue in their fellowship–perhaps she even intuited that this would be their last chance. He insisted that he must return home as it was his calling to be there. She simply nodded, folded her hands, and began to pray.

As Benedict watched his sister pray, he felt the sudden cold gust of wind that preceded a thunderstorm. His eyes widened in surprise and confusion. At the first peal of thunder, he went to the window and looked outside to see the first large rain drops strike the dirt outside of the building. Turning to Scholastica, he said, “May God forgive you, sister,” and asked, “What have you done?”

She responded simply: “I asked you and you would not listen; so I asked my God and he did listen. So now go off, if you can, leave me and return to your monastery.” With these words, she began packing up her things knowing very well that he would now stay but she wanted to indicate to him his freedom to choose. Benedict stayed with his sister and they talked later into the night. Shortly thereafter, Scholastica died and Benedict mourned the loss of his sister but thanked God that he had had a little more time with her.

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Telling the Stories that Matter: February 4 – Alfred Delp, Martyr, Falsely Accused, Opponent of the Nazis

Alfred Delp’s was born in Mannheim, Germany, shortly after the turn of twentieth century. His mother was Roman Catholic and his father was a protestant. He was baptized in the congregation of his mother but was sent to a Lutheran school for his education. At the age of fourteen he was even confirmed in a Lutheran church and it would seem that he had a relatively spiritually involved life up that point. However, he had a falling out with the minister of the congregation and soon thereafter began attending the congregation of his mother. Some time later he was confirmed in the Roman Catholic church and his faith continued to remain stable though within a different tradition. It is suggested that Alfred’s ecumenism is a product of his split denominational upbringing but there is no doubt that Alfred was a man with hope for the power of ecumenical theology and fellowship. He was convinced that there was much more to ecumenism than simply pretending to get along and avoiding the points of disagreement. Instead, he advocated that we should learn to “carry the historical burden of our separated churches, as baggage and inheritance.” He felt that there was little room for continued infighting between Christians when there was so much room for ministry in the world. On this piece in particular, Alfred was very right.

Alfred eventually joined the Society of Jesus and began pursuing the path of priestly ordination. He was an intelligent man and a capable student and so he asked to be allowed to study for his PhD in Munich. Painfully, he was rejected not because of lack of talent or intellect but because he was affiliated with the Jesuits and they were becoming increasingly unpopular in Germany. As the Nazis gained power, they chafed against the Jesuits and retaliated for perceived slights and injustices. At first, Alfred’s resistance was literary and editorial but soon he was hiding Jews in nearby towns and helping them escape to Switzerland. In perpetrating these acts of mercy and grace, he was burning any bridges that might lead him back to the safety of silence before the Nazi oppressors–he had made an indelible statement in his resistance and in his associations and friendships. Eventually, it cost him his life.

Alfred’s mentor and guide was retaliated against as an individual Jesuit and this led the man to become increasingly involved in underground resistance to the Nazis. He introduced Alfred to the Kreisau circle and he continued to form friendships with people who recognized what great evil was being committed in the name of nationalism. Alfred’s involvement was as a religious adviser and teacher who dreamed of a day when the Third Reich would fall and prepared for the aftermath of its collapse. He worked with his mentor and two Lutheran pastors, as well. But the Nazis brooked no resistance and soon had arrested the members of the Kreisau circle and imprisoned them. While Alfred was imprisoned, he continued to offer pastoral care and say mass for the interested. He continued ministry even though he knew his own death was fast approaching. One day a Jesuit priest was sent by Alfred’s mentor to finalize Alfred’s involvement with the Jesuits. Behind bars and facing certain death, Alfred took his final vows without the guards having any idea what had happened. He was tried in a mockery of justice and sentenced to die. The guards agreed to set him free if he would deny his faith and the Jesuits but he refused. They murdered him on February 2, 1945. His body was cremated and his ashes were scattered across sewage fields near Berlin.

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Fletcher and Gage

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When we gather as a community to pray together, we really gather to do a lot of things. We sing and keep silence. We give thanks for the day fast passing into night, even as we also confess when we have taken it all for granted and when we have sinned. We listen as contemplatively as we can manage as one of us reads scripture. We listen for the Spirit hidden in the nooks and crannies of the words of our sister and brother. We talk about nothing as a way of talking about everything. But, we also come to a time to name some of the particular things for which we are praying.

Over the years, this time of naming particular prayer requests has developed its own unspoken and natural form. First, we hear the most pressing requests on people’s hearts—those requests that will not sit still for another second and leap from the mouths of dear friends as soon as they can. Second, we usually have a chorus of updates on sick family members, friends in recovery or trying to escape addiction, loved ones making big transitions, and people we know (or don’t know) who are either newly homeless or dangerously close to it. Third, we hear the regular requests that are ticked off like prayer beads every week, once again reminding us of our commitment not only to pray for others, but to carry each other in our prayers and thoughts.

Finally, we wait quietly for a few remaining prayers to be offered up hesitantly and with uncertain conviction. These last requests are the raw ones, the ones that don’t come easily or quickly, and can be hard to talk about. Offering these last prayers up to the room is a step in faith, trusting that those gathered will take up our messy, half-articulated worries and hurts with tender hands. This last kind of prayer request was what Fletcher offered one night.

Fletcher had lost a lot of hours at his job and now found it difficult to make ends meet. He was trying to get back on his feet, but was struggling—that’s one of the reasons he was staying in one of our hospitality rooms. So, as our prayers rounded out to silence, Fletcher first asked for us to pray for people who were having trouble in their jobs. Instead of asking us to pray for him, he asked for prayer for people who matched a description that was conspicuously like him. He had the voice to ask for prayer, just not for himself yet. We nodded our willingness to do so—this is, in fact, one of our regular prayers.  After all, so many of the people who call our community home know this struggle intimately.

But, then Fletcher named another person around the circle, Ed, and asked us to pray specifically that Ed might get the hours he needed at his job. He had the voice to name a person, just not himself yet. We nodded our willingness to do so, and Fletcher looked Ed in the eye and asked, “Because it’s hard, isn’t it?”

“Can I do something right now?” asked Gage, our brother who had recently been released from jail and reunited with his fiancé. Gage hadn’t been with us too long, but was eager to leave his past behind and be a part of something like our little community. Helpful to a fault, but occasionally reserved in groups, his request was something of a surprise as I was distracted, trying to figure out how to let Fletcher know we’d be praying for his job situation even if he couldn’t ask for himself, yet.

By the time I had begun to nod to Gage, he had already bowed his head and began praying spontaneously for Fletcher. “Lord God, we know you care about Fletcher, Ed, and everybody, so we want to care, too. Help Fletcher get the hours he needs and to know that you love him and we do, too. Amen.” It wasn’t a fancy prayer, but it communicated something vitally important: we knew, we cared, and we were listening—even if he couldn’t ask for himself, yet.

“Thanks,” Fletcher whispered. Gage nodded silently and looked away, ready for the attention to shift somewhere else in the circle.

“Let’s not forget to pray for Gage, too,” I added, “he’s still looking for a job, right?”

We prayed for Gage, Ed, and Fletcher, and we prayed for the 45% of homeless people in our country who have a job, but can’t get enough hours to make ends meet. We prayed for the words to say when we gathered together, but also to know when silence is the best prayer we can offer. We prayed for sisters and brothers who find it hard to pray for themselves, but easy to pray for others. We did all this, because we want to be people who gather up prayers and honor them all with tender hands. Wrapped in the prayers of the community, we’re all learning how to pray for ourselves by praying for each other.

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