Contemporary Scripture Reflections for Spiritual Seekers
Dr. Elizabeth-Anne Stewart

Third Sunday of Lent, March 24th, 2019

Tired, he sat by Jacob's well
and, amid the flies and dust
of midday,
waited for the woman,
waited for water.
She was amazed by his lack
of protocol.
"You-- a Jew -- ask me?"

His answer perplexed her more:
"If you knew--
if you only knew--
you would ask me
and I would give you
living water, a dancing spring,
blue as a fathomless ocean,
cool as a mountain stream,
bracing as rain,
welling, gushing, brimming over,
deep with the mystery
of what I AM
and of what you are,
if you only knew it.
If you knew--
if you only knew--
in that water
you would dance,
immersed deep, deep, deep,
plunging deeper still,
washed clean
by river, pond, lake, sea,
breakers and eddies,
high tide and low.
You would let yourself drift,
drift, drift,
if you only knew that YOU ARE
the water....

Of course, she did not know.
What she wanted
was to be saved from
the inconvenience of drought,
from back-breaking labor --
the dreary trudge,
the blistered hands,
the heavy burden,
the weary heart....

"You have no bucket, Sir;
the well is deep..."

But the man read the desert
in her eyes, told her
e v e r y t h i n g
she had ever done
and more.

And so
with the taste of water
on her lips,
she put down her pitcher
and ran
to proclaim WHO and
the Master was....

Frost & Fire
Elizabeth-Anne Stewart, 1985

Greetings, SBT Readers:

Once again, the world reels in horror as a result of a heinous crime-- the slaughter of worshipers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Once again there are thoughts and prayers for the victims, an outpouring of support for survivors. And once again there are cries for stricter gun control and less access to military style assault weapons. We are only too familiar with this pattern, whether it follows a public event such as the Las Vegas Country Music concert (2017), or a school shooting such as the Sandy Hook massacre (2007), or a church shooting such as the one that occurred at the   Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Texas (2015). Sometimes, the perpetrators are mentally ill and simply want to cause as much destruction as possible so as to be in the limelight; in others, the assassins seek revenge after an event such as being fired or passed over for promotion; and, in still others, it is hatred that fuels the violence-- anti-Semitism, racism, misogyny, homophobia, classism, Islamophobia, xenophobia etc.

It is the hatred on which I would like to focus. Apart from limiting access to guns, there is not much that can be done to prevent massacres resulting from mental illness and crimes of "passion"; however, massacres arising from hatred might be preventable if we were to address their source. We are not born hating anyone; hatred is learned in the home, in one's community and amongst one's peers. It stems from viewing "the differing other" either as a threat to be eliminated, or as an inferior to be exploited or as both. It causes us to scapegoat the "alien" in our midst as a way of diverting blame from ourselves and mobilizing group rage against the particular "enemy" we have named, in much the same way as the Nazis blamed the Jews for Germany's defeat in World War I and for the country's economic issues. Hate-filled rhetoric such as calling migrants "invaders, rapists and murderers" fuels such animosity, blinding us to our common humanity.

When White Supremacists look at one of their target groups, they do not see individuals like themselves but "filth" to be eradicated; driven by their fanaticism, White Supremacists have a sense of mission, the conviction that they are doing themselves and their kind a favor. "Right" is on their side, or so they believe. Their objectives are to kill for the greatest impact and to propagate their violent ideology.

To counter such hatred, as a society we need to move beyond tokenism and "diversity training" to providing real encounters with those who are different from ourselves. This means embarking on a discovery process of listening and learning, so that we can understand what we share in common while appreciating our differences.

Sadly, the American public is largely ignorant when it comes to Islam, and so it has been easy for hatemongers to stigmatize Muslims as "terrorists." Often confusing Sikhs and Hindus with Muslims, most Americans would be astonished to know that Christians, Jews and Muslims worship the same God; they would also be surprised that Islam is based on peace, equality, ethical monotheism, charity, prayer, self-mastery and, if possible, pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in one's lifetime. No doubt they would also be taken aback to discover a familiar cast of characters in the Quran, ranging from Adam to Jesus. You can see the list here:

I believe education at every level of society is the key to a more peaceful world. In the aftermath of the Christchurch
massacres, let us look for "sameness" not "difference"; in every place of worship, in every school, in every organization, and in every home, let us denounce the slaughter of our Muslim brothers and sisters. Remaining silent is not an option.

Lenten Blessings!


PS Sunday Video Chat is on Spring Break this week!


Jesus said to her,
"Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship God neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem...
But the hour is coming, and is already here, when true worshipers will worship in Spirit and truth; and indeed God seeks such worship. God is Spirit, and those who worship must do so in Spirit and truth."
The woman replied,
"I know the Messiah is coming, the one they call the Christ; when he comes, he will tell us everything."
Jesus said,
"I am he, the one speaking with you."

Jn 4:5-42

Mountains can be leveled, destroyed by natural disasters, by warfare, and by human meddling with the environment. Take, for example, the Appalachian Mountains where the practice of MRT (mountain-top removal) has scarred millions of acres of land solely to enrich the coal, oil and gas industries. Holy cities are also finite. Jerusalem, the center of ritual worship at the time of Jesus, was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in roughly 587 or 586 BCE, was rebuilt during the rule of Cyrus II of Persia, and then destroyed again by the Romans in 70 CE. Having lost both their temple and their homeland, the Jews had to discover new ways of practicing their faith that were not dependent upon a physical location; in effect, their faith had to become as "portable" as Torah scrolls and as the celebration of Shabbat in the home. Yet another example, of course, is when contemporary communities lose their church, either through merger or, as in the case of my beloved St. James, to the wrecking ball. Such a loss can bring a community together or end in a scattering of the survivors. Ironically, Mount Gerizim -- the mountain sacred to the Samaritans-- is still standing while only remnants of the Jewish temple have survived.

But I believe Jesus' words to the Samaritan woman were not just about the need for a
"portable faith" in the event of disaster; rather, he explicitly stated that true worship has nothing to do with a physical location --or even religious objects such as prayer shawls and statues-- but takes place in the human heart -- "in Spirit and truth." Then, having explained that God desires the worship of the heart over cultic practice, he pointed to himself as the source of living water, as the reservoir of endless spiritual renewal: "Those who drink the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life" (Jn 4:14).

This is not to say that Jesus was opposed to public rituals or private devotions, but that he was naming a higher form of prayer that was more desirable to God. Sadly, in 2,000 years of Christianity, this teaching has not received much prominence. In Catholicism, for example, most of the faithful would view Sunday Mass as the pre-eminent prayer, with practices such as Benediction, the Rosary, the Stations of the Cross, pilgrimages and devotions to saints following close behind. But have we learned how to pray "in Spirit and truth"? Do we depend upon the institutional Church for our spiritual nurturing or have we somehow learned to turn directly to Jesus for the "living water" that he offers us so freely? If we had no faith community, would we still be able to access this living water? Is a relationship with God possible outside the institution? Now, I am not advocating staying home on Sundays -- I, for one, am active in my faith community and value what it offers me in terms of spiritual support; nor am I suggesting that churchgoers drop their devotional reading and practices. What I am saying, however, is that Jesus invites us to an even deeper, more personal faith than most of us have ever dreamed of. Religious formation has failed in that this is a "best kept secret." Committed Christians --religious and laity alike-- still think of prayer as "saying one's prayers" rather than being in a constant state of prayer.

Even the Sacraments, those encounters with the living Christ, too often become formulaic, rote and rubric driven. But Spirit transcends rules and rubrics. Spirit flows freely into the hearts of humankind ; it cannot be controlled or legislated, limited or contained. Spirit rests on the unlikely, giving voice to the timid and reluctant; bestowing wisdom, knowledge and understanding; building courage and strength of character; teaching the path to holiness, that is, the way to God's Heart. This Spirit demands passionate intensity, not lukewarm platitudes or rote prayers. This Spirit is the living water that Jesus has promised us; the miracle is that each of us can drink of this Spirit, wherever we are, no matter the circumstances.

  1. To what extent do you "say" your prayers rather than let prayer flow through you?
  2. Which prayer forms help you connect more closely to God?
  3. How has your way of praying changed over the years?
  4. Are you satisfied with your "prayer life" or do you hunger for something more?
This video explains my approach to this ministry, while my website provides further details as well. I work "in person" as well as remotely by phone, Zoom or Skype; I am also available to facilitate retreats for groups and individuals.

Dr. Elizabeth-Anne Stewart | |

All Photos by Elizabeth-Anne Stewart,