Reading the ‘woman at the well’
Well of Living Water: Jesus and the Samaritan Woman is the title of Messenger Publications’ latest book, written by Magdalen Lawler, a Notre Dame sister living in London. In this, her latest book, Magdalen uses an inspirational icon of the Samaritan ‘women at the well’ to help the reader reflect on the significance and meaning of the gospel encounter in their own lives. She does this by combining Ignatian spirituality, art history and biblical cross-references that lead the reader to a prayerful sacred space as they move through the book.
Sr Magdalen has conducted retreats for many years, often with Scottish Jesuit Tom McGuinness, who now works with tertians in the Manresa Centre for Spirituality in Dublin. Tom is a singer-songwriter who has written a song, Touching the Water, based on the story of the woman at the well that has also been launched along with the book. (Listen to the full song here.)
Pat Coyle of Irish Jesuit Communications met up with Magdalen and Tom in the tertianship in Manresa recently. She spoke to both of them about their work for the book Well of Living Water and you can listen above to the interview which also features some clips of Tom’s composition.
Magdalen says she will never forget her first encounter with the icon of the woman at the well in Britain, over 30 years ago. She tells of the enduring impact the icon has had on her and the numerous groups of religious, lay and women whom she has introduced to it.
The gospel story of the Samaritan woman is read at Mass during Lent but Magdalen says it’s rarely reflected on deeply enough in the Western Church. That’s not the case with the Eastern Churches who honour the importance of the encounter by actually naming the woman. “She’s called Photini, which means ‘light'”, says Magdalen, adding that derivative names in the west would include Fionn and Fionnuala in Ireland and Fiona is Scotland.
Magdalen introduces the reader to the art of ‘reading’ or praying with an icon. And she unpacks some of its theology by focussing on various aspects of the icon such as the hands of Jesus and the woman, the well itself, or Samaritan woman’s bucket. She also explores the rich symbolism of water, springs, wells, thirsting, seeking, drinking and preaching, all present not just within the icon but within the gospel story itself. Magdalen notes that the dialogue of Jesus with the woman of Samaria is the longest conversation recorded in any of the gospels.
Tom McGuinness SJ says Touching the Water is written largely from the perspective of Jesus and it’s an invitation to the singer/listener to turn and identify with Him in his humanity. Jesuit is weary and thirsty and we are invited to draw on him as our well of nourishment, comfort, and blessing, he says.
The song was inspired by the response of various groups to the icon, and also by the Gospel translation of the story by scripture scholar and British Jesuit Nicholas King. Nicholas’ translation is true to the original text, earthy and immediate, according to Tom who says, “It’s a beautiful translation that gives you the sense that you really are part of the story.”
Well of Living Water: Jesus and the Samaritan Woman, by Magdalen Lawler SND is published by Messenger Publications and costs €10.95.