Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Women at the Wells

On Sunday we went to St. Anne’s Church in the Old City, which is next to the pools of Bethsaida and also believed to be the birth place of Mary.  In the crypt, there is this icon depicting Mary’s birth.   Her mother, Anna lies on the bed recovering and Mary lies in the crook of the midwife’s arm.  With her other hand, the midwife reaches into to a swirling font of water.  It is as if Mary’s birth has stirred the waters of life.   The past and the future are swirling together in that water, which in just moments in the perspective of history will become the baptismal water where we will find new life.

My three favorite places that we have visited so far have been connected to women and water: St. Anne’s with that icon of the swirling font and the ruins of the pool of Bethsaida just outside, Jacob’s Well in Samaria (modern day Nablus) and the Orthodox Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth.
                The pool of Bethsaida was the site where Jesus healed the crippled man who had sat waiting for a turn to get into the pool for over 30 years, yet someone always went ahead of him.   To get down to the level of the pool, I climbed down steep steps through layers of excavated ruins.  Jerusalem is several stories higher than it was in Jesus’ time, built over layers and layers of Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman buildings.   The pool was much closer to the surface at Jesus’ time but probably still many steps down.  I can understand why the crippled man struggled to be the first into the water.
                The Orthodox church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, also known as St. Gabriel’s, lies over a running spring.  In the Orthodox tradition, the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, not at her house but at the town well.   This church was built above the spring that feeds that well.  You can climb down into the crypt and see the spring, and the whole church is filled with the sound of that living, running water as well as lingering scent of incense.
                Jacob’s well is of course the place where Jacob supposedly met and fell in love with Rachel, and where Jesus met the Samaritan women in John’s Gospel.   This is a story about crossing borders as Jews did not usually travel through Samaria and Jewish men would not speak to Samaritan women.  Jesus asks the woman to draw him some water from the well and they enter into conversation in which he offers her the water of life.
                In the desert, springs of water signify the divine presence.  There is something so elemental about these places, climbing down into the earth to meet that source of water, water which sustains all our lives and which for Christian’s has become the source of our rebirth in baptism.  Women are bearers of life, so it makes sense that they should be connected with these places.  These churches are monuments to the faithfulness of women: Anna who raised a daughter to follow God’s calling, Mary the Theatokos, who bore God within herself and the Samaritan Woman who saw that Jesus was the Messiah and went out to proclaim it in the towns and villages.  These women were disciples.  I give thanks for them and all those who have taught us what it means to be faithful.    

1 comment:

  1. I love the way you are filling in the historical and "sociological" gaps, that most texts ignore