By Fr Donald Chambers
In his spiritual input entitled The Samaritan Woman at the Well, at the Synod Assembly (October, Rome), Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP writes, “Wells are places of romantic encounter in the Bible.” In general, romantic encounters are transformational experiences that inspire us to act.
The Synod Assembly is meant to be a lived experience in which participants “walking together” listen to each other, listen to the “joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties” of the People of God captured in the synod syntheses, and listen to the Word of God in scriptures to discern concrete ways in which the Holy Spirit directs and guides the mission of the Church in the 21st century, not in other centuries.
I want to draw upon the biblical concept of the well, a romantic place of encounter, transformation, and preparation for a mission, to reflect upon the Synod Assembly and synodal experiences as spaces of formation and conversion for the mission of evangelisation.
In the Scriptures, the well is a meeting place where people gather to talk, share news, engage in business transactions, and meet future intimate partners.
In Genesis 29:10–11, we read about Jacob’s first intimate encounter with the shepherdess Rachel at a well, where he kissed her, and burst into tears.
With enthusiasm, she tells her father, who meets Jacob, embraces, and kisses him, and brings him to his house. Therefore, the well was a space of encounter, transformation, and mission for Jacob and Rachel.
According to Estelle Frankel in her book Sacred Therapy, the more profound significance of wells in the Torah (first five books of the Old Testament) is not simply a place of water. Still, it represents the “deeper inner wellsprings of spiritual wisdom – the wisdom of the unconscious that wells up from the depth of our being.”
She further argues that the nature of studying the Torah is linked to a process of renewal, in which we re-dig the ancient wells again and again to find “new life and nourishment for the soul…”
There is a call, therefore, for each generation to live by the well of the Torah and be “attentive to the ongoing flow of the spirit that perennially emerges from the depths of our being.”
In the New Testament, Jesus Christ is considered the New Well or the New Torah, where people encounter the Living Water in Him and where Jesus helps persons to re-dig the well of His Word.
The transformation of the Samaritan Woman (Jn 4:1–42) and the Emmaus disciples (Lk 24:13–35) occurs because the encounter allows the breakdown of the barrier between our ordinary lives and the sacred to dissolve so that divine life force is revealed (Frankel).
That happens when we live by the New Well, Jesus Christ. The encounter inspired and empowered the Samaritan woman to go on a mission, saying, “Come and see a man who has told me everything I did; I wonder if he is the Christ?” (Jn 4:29) and the Emmaus disciples “to tell their story of what had happened on the road and how they had recognized him at the breaking of bread” (Lk 24:35).
In the romantic encounter, Jesus enabled them to re-dig the well and discover the Living Water deep within themselves.
The Synod Assembly and all synod experiences are meant to enable participants to encounter Jesus Christ, the New Well, as they walk together to listen and discern.
As Pope Francis reminded the participants of the Synod Assembly at the opening Mass, “Let the centrality of Christ…be the guiding thread of this synod. Let him be the Alpha and Omega in our discussions, let him be the light that illuminates our debates, and let him be the final output of all our efforts.”
It is not a coincidence that the Synod Assembly falls within October, Mission Month and Mission Sunday, October 22.
The goal of the Synod Assembly is to encounter Jesus Christ, who transforms and empowers them, like Jacob, the Samaritan Woman, and the Emmaus disciples, to proclaim the Good News, Hearts on fire, feet on the move, the theme of Mission Sunday.
What is also significant about the experience of the Samaritan Woman and the Emmaus disciples is that Jesus utilises a synodal approach in His encounter with them.
First, He initiates a conversation, walks with them, and allows them to tell their story. Second, He listens and receives their story non-judgementally. Third, He creates space for them to listen to the Scriptures. Eventually, they discern the presence of the New Well with Living Water within themselves and with them.
When we gather for regular meetings at the parish or diocesan levels, each gathering must be a “well” experience in which, through the synodal approach of “walking together”, participants encounter Jesus Christ and leave transformed for the mission of evangelisation.
Fr Donald Chambers of the Archdiocese of Kingston, Jamaica is the General Secretary of the Antilles Episcopal Conference.