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Reopening the wells of life

By Fr Donald Chambers

In the Queen’s Park Savannah, there are numerous wells identified by the Water and Sewage Authority (WASA), in dark and light blue trademark colours. These wells consist of mechanical pumps and pipes to access water for domestic and industrial uses.

Sometimes, wells are abandoned due to contaminated water or the depletion of the water source. If circumstances change, wells can be reopened. The bottom line is that without water and the means to access it, life becomes meaningless.

Using the story of Isaac reopening the water-wells that were dug in the days of Abraham, his father, and were closed by the Philistines after Abraham’s death (cf Gen 26: 18–19), Estelle Frankel teaches that the scriptures are a life-giving source that need to be continuously reopened.

She writes, “Just as the matriarchs and patriarchs each dug wells, revealing sources of life-giving water, each of us must dig deep to find meaning in the sacred narratives of our lives.”

Each of us is a potential scripture, and that potential is achieved whenever we establish a dialogue between our new experiences of life and the Word of God in the scriptures.

This conversation is like reopening the well to access new and deeper meaning. In a word, we are invited to ‘re-dig’ or interrogate the Word of God in the scriptures by asking the question: ‘What is the Word of God saying to me, my family, my community, my country, or the world today?’.

Each time we re-dig the wells of scripture, we arrive at new and fresh waters of spiritual wisdom that nourish our soul far more than physical water does (Estelle Frankel).

In the gospel story of the Emmaus disciples (Lk 24: 13–35), the Risen Christ reopens the wells of His own life to assist the disciples in finding a new and deeper meaning surrounding His suffering, death, and resurrection.

Reopening wells consisted of establishing a conversation between the Hebrew scriptures and the historical events surrounding His suffering, death, and resurrection. Ultimately, this led to their rising above the fears and weakened faith which had been generated by the crisis.

At the end of the reopening exercises, the disciples were enlightened by their discovery of deeper meaning, their disposition towards this stranger changed, and they practised hospitality towards Him. They said, “Stay with us; the day is almost over, and it is getting dark.” Essentially, reopening the wells leads to conversion and hospitality.

Each new experience invites the domestic Church to live by and reopen old wells to discover the Living, Giving Water of Jesus Christ.

What does it mean to live by and reopen the well? To live by something means that the ‘space’ is home where you spend most of your time, and that space shapes the way you think and behave. In a similar manner, if you live by and reopen the well—the path towards deeper meaning—then it will shape or influence your thinking and your behaviour.


How do we reopen this well?

One method that the domestic Church can use is called Lectio Divina, a Latin expression which means ‘sacred reading’.

The basic principle of this method is really to drill down into our lives with the scripture to find deeper meaning for ourselves, our families, and communities. In the words of the late Fr Michel de Verteuil CSSp, “When we approach the text in this way, we come face to face with the fact that it speaks to the imagination. . . it stirs up feelings; we find ourselves identifying with the characters. . . we find that we have lived the sequence of events ourselves, or have seen them lived in others who have touched our lives.”

Lectio Divina can be practised by both Catholic or ecumenical families. First, invite two members of the family to read consecutively a selected scripture passage slowly and reverentially.

As it is read, each family member pays attention to an image, a word, or a statement arising from the passage, and share it aloud. Next, each person allows the passage to stir up memories, so that they recognise in the passage or characters in the passage in their own experience or that of people who have touched their lives (Meditation).

The fruits of each person’s meditation can be shared aloud. Finally, allow the meditation to lead the family members to express verbally a prayer of thanksgiving and/or petition.

As I close this article, I propose an exercise by Estelle Frankel for your family:

  • Look back on your family history and pick a chapter that has remained unresolved or a piece of your family history with which the family has struggled.
  • Imagine that this chapter of your family story is being retold in the voice of an author who is narrating and recording it as sacred text.
  • What happens to your perspective as you begin to view this part of your family history as a chapter of the scripture?

If your perspective of your family’s life has changed after this exercise, then invite members of your family to gather and together reopen the wells to find deeper meaning.

Fr Donald Chambers of the Archdiocese of Kingston, Jamaica is the General Secretary of the Antilles Episcopal Conference.