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The following is where I imagine what it was like to be Photini, the woman at the well (John 4). See what you think.

Jacob’s Well

I tell you he saw me. He drew me out of the weeping and gnashing of teeth and outer darkness I felt whenever I came to the well, none of the women turning a kind face. I felt his words as though they were his arm reaching down and pulling me in from the outer darkness.

Do you know how hard it is to be shunned by women who used to be your friends? To not make the cut, to not be worth their time in their busy lives, so they act like I’m not even there as they chat about their babies and grandbabies. Even my sisters wanted nothing to do with me. How it hurt to see Hannah’s daughter talk to me, the kindest person while we waited to fill our jars and her mother, whose name I won’t mention, shooed her away and looked at me as if I were swine. My heart beat fast. I could barely breathe from holding my tears back.

I sobbed to Cleopas when I got home from these trips to the well. I’m tired of hearing it he said. It wasn’t long before he threw me out.

All the while I had to walk home with my head up, my water pot balanced perfectly in my head when all I wanted to do was drop it to my hands and douse them water, no matter that I’d have to draw it again?

I was never sure what I did to piss them off. Maybe I wore them out with my grief? How could I bear losing husband and after husband without weeping? I couldn’t seem to keep my babies either. I lost enough before they were born, that I gave up trying, but the prophet Isaiah says he gives the barren woman children and so he did for me, but when they were grown, they left me for their father’s family.

I listened to the women’s stories, said I’d pray for them. But nothing I said pleased them. They didn’t exactly roll their eyes when I told my hurts, but I could feel their sighs, see their shifting on one leg then another. They didn’t like it when I listened. Or maybe they didn’t like me questioning Rabbi Lev’s constant talk about how the prophets told us we failed. I was sick of God’s judgement every Sabbath. If you don’t tithe everything, you will be condemned. Don’t commit adultery. But I married old men who loved me because my body warmed them. And then they died. Did he think I didn’t already know that?

Men make more sense to me than women. Their husbands offered to help when my husband died. What was I to do, tell them know when I needed my roof fixed? I’ve loved five men—husbands dying, husbands throwing me out, a man who took me in because no one else would. I can’t blame women for rejecting me. I’d reject me too if I were them, the way I befriended their men.

I used to visit the temple ruins on Gerazim, toppled by the Jewish king John Hyrcanus. I recited the blessings and curses shouted back and forth between Gerazim and Ebal. I prayed, “Lord rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath. Be gracious to me for I am languishing, heal me for my bones are troubled. My soul is also greatly troubled. But you O Lord, how long? Turn, O Lord, deliver my life, save me for the sake of your steadfast love. For in death there is no remembrance of you, in Sheol who will give you praise?”

I was thinking about how Jacob dug this well, how the water tasted vintage, like well-aged wine. when I walked up to a very tired man who was sitting there.

“Give me a drink,” he said. Oh my, those eyes. That familiarity. Like he knew me from a child. But he was a Jewish man and I a Samaritan woman, hated by the Jews, and not far from being stoned for my friendships with husbands. I felt the sweat drip between my breasts.

I said the obvious, “But you’re a Jewish man. I’m a Samaritan woman.”

“If you knew God’s gift, and who is asking for a drink, you would have asked me for living water and I would have given it to you.” They were full of light, his eyes. They caught me like needle binding cloth. I could not drop my eyes to the ground. My womb rippled. I saw the clear stream I stepped through on the way to the ruined temple, the water biting and refreshing.

More than anything I wanted to give him a drink. He looked so tired and parched and confident.

“But you have nothing to draw water with,” I stuttered as I tied my jug to the rope and dropped it into the well. It splashed when it hit the water. My arms and hands barely felt the weight as I pulled it up, dipped the cup I carried to quench my thirst before the long walk back and handed it to him. His fingers touched mine. I felt pricked, not in my hand, but down there, more forceful than I’d ever felt.

“Where do you get that water?” I handed him the cup. Suddenly we were familiar. “Are you greater than Jacob who gave us this well?”

“Haven’t you been thirsty after you’ve taken your fill of this water? But you’ll never be thirsty again from the water I offer. The water I give becomes a well springing up into eternal life.” He smiled like he was telling me the secret to the very old magic I chanted in the Psalms “For with you is the fountain of life. In thy light shall we see light.” And the prophet Jeremiah, “for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” But I took him at his word. I asked, “Can I have this water? So I don’t have to come to this well and draw water?”

“Go call your husband and come here.” He said it with a little smirk, as if we’d known each other for years.

“I have no husband.” I said with defiance and all the loneliness husbands dying, husbands divorcing, husbands stolen. How could I not tell him the truth? Those eyes.

“You’re right. You’ve had five husbands and the one you have is not your husband,” he said and he continued to say how it was for me, all the things I’d done, the hurt and anger. My mouth dropped open. I listened with relief because he saw me, not to ridicule but to gently name. I felt cloaked with fine linen.

My back tingled. Ever since I was a girl, I’d wanted to meet a seer. “You must be a prophet,” I said, my throat dry. “Our fathers worship in this mountain, but you say Jerusalem is where people have worshipped.” How I loved Mount Gerazim, the ruins that seemed to speak with our voices, mine and going back to the end of the exile. I felt God there.

“The hour is coming when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

“I know that the Messiah is coming. When he comes, he will tell us all things.”

“I am he.”

His words were like walking toward the newly risen eastern sun. I could barely see. Tears dripped down my face. He trusted me with his secret. Here, I’d longed for a seer and got the Messiah, the one who would set us free from Rome.

About that time his disciples returned. I expected fancy religious men, dressed in Pharisees’ robes, but these guys were working men. Ordinary. Rag tag. Their silence startled me because I was a Samaritan woman and they were Jewish men.

The Messiah cut the thread binding my eyes to his. I lifted up with joy. I set down my jug and ran to town. “He told me everything I did,” I told people—first one and then the other and another. “Can this be the Christ we’ve been waiting for? Come with me. He’s by the well of Sychar. Come and see. He might not stay long.” I was nearly jumping up and down, waving my arms like a child.

A small crowd gathered and walked with me to the well. I felt their curiosity. He turned from his disciples, words I caught on the breeze, “One sows. Another reaps.” He smiled wide, no longer looking tired. My cup sat on the edge of the well. He picked it up and handed it to me. My water jar was full. I my heart was full, bubbling with joy.

We invited him to stay with us for a few days. He healed us. He taught us. He baptized us. Then I saw him crucified, and my heart broke. I thought I would die. He appeared. To me alive as the sun. He gave me his hand. Pulled me up. He said, “You won’t see death if you follow me. You need not be afraid.”


He slammed his hands against his ears, his face red. “Stop. Stop. Talking. About. The. Man. At. The. Well. He wasn’t God. I’m God,” he stood sweeping his hand as if he were introducing a play. Marble and tapestries and statues. “So what if he told you all you did? If you don’t stop, I’ll kill you.” His madness sparked. Nero was almost handsome in his fury.

Tears welled up. “I can’t stop talking,” I said as quiet as a sparrow sitting on a fencepost.

I saw a sparrow land on the edge of the well and I was back to the day I met my Lord even though I was speaking to the Caesar, ruler of Rome, maker of world peace. I looked into my Lord’s eyes, those eyes that sewed mine to his, that day. I did not care my words would lead to my death.

“Now will you relent and sacrifice?” Nero pointed to a statue of himself, the marble eyes, painted bright blue, and unseeing.

“Why would I renounce my Lord and sacrifice to that statue as blind as you are?” I spat.

The Dry Well

I leaned against the cobblestones, the water up to my neck, but I’d been thrown in a dry well. How could there be water? My legs were braced against the stones, a kind of kneeling. My chin against my knees. Water, his arm around me, as he plunged me into water, the water springing up, a well of living water, around me, in me.

Water, the water like the water that poured out of the temple in all four directions, pouring into the dead sea, making it fresh water, trees growing on its banks, fruit growing every month, and leaves for healing the nations. My stomach growled. I thought about the fruit, about sinking my teeth into a date, the sweetness, and seeds catching in my teeth. I thought about leaves laid over my back that broke as I tumbled down. I thought about his hand reaching out to hold mine as he pulled me out of the darkness. But it wasn’t thought. It was his hand. I took hold. I looked up and saw stars.

If you’d like to read more about Photini, her amazing life and courageous, and in some ways miraculous death, here’s a link.

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