James Tissot (1836-1902) – The Woman of Samaria at the Well (1886-1894) at the Brooklyn Museum
The First Commandment of Fiction has mutated from “write what you know” to “stay in your lane.” But this rule is at odds with the essence of good fiction. Good fiction, Smith writes, has always “suspected that there is far more to people than what they choose to make manifest,” and has unflinchingly probed the “profound mystery of consciousness” with deep and human curiosity about “others.”
I had to seek the Physician
because of the pain this world
I could not believe what
happened when I got there —
I found my
Before I left, He said,
“Up for a little homework, yet?”
“Okay,” I replied.
“Well, then, try thanking
all the people
who have caused
They helped you
Notice how Tissot paints Jacob’s Well as looking much like a diminutive Temple built of stone, but one broken down as if having been rejected by those who used to come there for essential refreshment, and finding it there, had cared for that place, keeping it in good repair. This is suggestive of Psalm 118:
Tissot conveys beautifully the loneliness of Jesus – the vulnerability in His face – He Who is the Cornerstone, the Living Water, sits alone in a broken “Temple”, and the refreshment people might seek there being now just too deep for them to get to easily (the water over 90-feet below!). The Alone meets her who, also alone, comes there seeking.
The strength of Christ created you; the weakness of Christ recreated you. The strength of Christ caused what-was-not to be; the weakness of Christ caused what-was to perish not. He produced us in his strength; he sought us in his weakness.12 
Notice how the “moment” that Tissot paints is likely from John 4:10:
Jesus points with His left hand to Himself – “and who is saying to you…” – and with His right hand He gestures to His Father in Heaven, the creative Source of all good gifts – “I can do nothing on My own” (John 5:30).
FIRST POINT – Let us start sixteen verses into this famous conversation at Jacob’s Well. Jesus was rude and abrupt when He gave the woman a command that put her in a bind (v 16). Imposing Himself into a place within her that had to have been especially vulnerable – her failed relationships, centrally important ones to her – into that, Jesus, the Art of Friendship, intruded.
16 Jesus said to her, “Go call your husband and come back.” 17 The woman answered and said to him, “I do not have a husband.” Jesus answered her, “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ 18 For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.”f 
I can think of no conversation when I would have thought it appropriate to do what Jesus did. He, a complete Stranger, called her out concerning her irregular relationship, about her living with a man to whom she was not married. Rude enough. But then He seems to “show off,” when He flashes a degree of knowledge of her most personal and painful experiences. Those secrets should have been only hers to share with Him … when she was ready to do so. I believe that we miss an important clue to understanding Jesus correctly here, if we grant Him a pass by overlooking His rudeness. Why did, or could, Jesus, who is the Art of Friendship, have acted like this?
SECOND POINT – “When she was ready to do so.” That’s it. Something happened, recounted in verses 4-15, that we need to find. What is it? Her heart happened. Any of us recall traveling in an unfamiliar city or country, and how that social isolation we felt freed us to ask strangers for help. I have remembered with special fondness those strangers who helped me, and who did so with grace and unexpected generosity. I particularly recall an elderly couple helping me, at twenty-three years old, at a train station in Bilbao, Spain in the summer of 1977. Jesus, weary that day and in need of water (he had no bucket, as she remarked) broke social convention and asked the woman for help, the Stranger asking a stranger, a Jewish man asking a Samaritan woman. But who Jesus found was a woman who was able to trust and act according to kindness more than to compliance (to social conventions), who like that other Good Samaritan (Luke 10), obeyed her compassion and helped Him, helped the Lord! Jesus recognized a woman with a heart like His, who acted as He would act, over and over again, in His public life, He Who “desired mercy not (i.e., more than) sacrifices.” This is what happened; her heart happened, and Jesus saw it. And so, as she had shown Him her heart, now He, the God-Man, would show her His, acting with power uncovered, He about whom John wrote – 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace,* 17 because while the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.m No less than at Cana of Galilee, so here the glory of the Lord shone and moved powerfully in the world, coming to the core and root of that woman’s brokenness – “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the Light gets in.” When it is God Who comes into the soul, it is never rude; it is the divine Mercy, and we know it.
THIRD POINT – How does the Light get into you? Do you, and with deepest love and admiration, remember when it did, when God did?
SETTING A TASK FOR WEEK THREE – My brother Mark shared this that he found today and forwarded to me, a piece written by a remarkable author, Anne Lamott. Mark texted me: “I thought this was good”, reminding me that for something to be good is always enough, nothing more needing to be added to it. Here are some lines taken from Lamott’s remarks, which I include here as a suggestion of good actions for this week of Lent.
We will come through this pandemic, but it will take time. I so hate this! Hate this, hate this, hate this, and do not agree to this, but have no alternative, because it is Truth: it will take time.
We’re at the beginning
of human and personal evolution. Whole parts of the world don’t even think
women are people. But we show up. Maybe we ask God for help. We do the next
right thing. We buy or cook a bunch of food for the local homeless. We return
phone calls, library books, smiles. We make eye contact with others, and we go
to the market and flirt with people who seem lonely. This is a blessed
sacrament. Tom Weston, SJ taught me decades ago that in the face of human
tragedy, we go around the neighborhood and pick up litter, even though there
will be more tomorrow. It is another blessed sacrament.
 The Benezit Dictionary of Artists at “Tissot, James” – “He eventually had a vision in the church of St- Sulpice in Paris; this prompted him to renounce formally all things secular and to devote his time to illustrating episodes drawn from Holy Scripture. In order to gather material, he travelled to Palestine in 1886 and again in 1889. The 350 or so watercolour drawings he brought back from Palestine were reproduced in two volumes, published in Paris by Lemercier and Marne and in London by Sampson Low. The sale of royalty rights earned Tissot a vast sum. The volumes, commonly known as the James Tissot Bible, are formally entitled Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ.”
 From “The First Commandment of Fiction” (13 March 2020) by Joshua Hren at First Things Online – https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2020/03/the-first-commandment-of-fiction.
 One of my favorite things in this poem are the two pronouns: the “me” here and the “Me” that is the final word in the poem. The de-centering of one’s life from the self-preoccupation of one’s, sometimes considerable, sorrows to God – the “Me” – can be thought of as a sufficient description of the true spiritual Path, as Martin Buber famously put it: from the “I” to the “Thou.” Notice the “you come to Me” of the last stanza.
 Perhaps often what we actually are seeking when trying to emerge from some terrible personal suffering is a solution, not a Teacher. Kabir’s point runs very deep if we allow ourselves to consider it. When evil works in the world it will always strike at relationships – the most lethal toxin of evil is for the sake of dissolving friendship – causing all persons poisoned in this way to feel, and therefore to conclude, that they are completely alone (because this is a central reality of Evil – vast loneliness). Kabir’s insight is that our experiences of evil, and of people who knowingly or unknowingly serve it, can drive us into relationship with the Teacher, with God, the Divine Majesty and the Lord of Souls. Kabir’s point is that there is often no solution to the evil in people and the damage they cause in other people. Unless one recalls that God has established a solution to evil in relationship, in friendship with us that God established in His Son, Who walks with us through the things that we suffer. One thing that evil cannot possibly do is to establish relationship or friendship – the latter are gifts of the Light, central to God’s own self-definition as Trinity. Evil is all about controlling people, not relating to them, about using them.
 This poem was shared with me by Steve Lantry, SJ, who used it this year in his preaching of the Novena (“nine days”) of Grace at the Church of St. Francis Xavier in Missoula, MT. It was Steve who decades ago was the means by which I first “heard” poetry, whose skill as a reader of poems finally opened my ears to Poetry. This poem is from page 229 in the collection mentioned below. “For five hundred years the poems of Kabir (c.1440–1518) have been recited and sung throughout India. Kabir was a great religious reformer in his time, as well as a famous artist and musician, founding a sect that still claims to have a million followers. Kabir achieved a remarkable synthesis of Hindu, Muslim, and even Christian belief. Rabindranath Tagore, the famous Bengali poet and novelist who won the Noble Prize for Literature in 1913, was a major force in bringing the wonderful poems of Kabir to the attention of the West when he published some translations of Kabir in 1915.” [Various. Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West (Compass) (p. 209). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]
* The stone the builders rejected: a proverb: what is insignificant to human beings has become great through divine election. The “stone” may originally have meant the foundation stone or capstone of the Temple. The New Testament interpreted the verse as referring to the death and resurrection of Christ (Mt 21:42; Acts 4:11; cf. Is 28:16 and Rom 9:33; 1 Pt 2:7).
i Mt 21:42; Lk 20:17; Acts 4:11; Rom 9:33; 1 Pt 2:7.
*12 This is a theme frequently repeated in these early Tractates; see 1.12, 2.15, 10.1, and 12.8.
 Augustine of Hippo, Tractates on the Gospel of John 11–27, ed. Thomas P. Halton, trans. John W. Rettig, vol. 79, The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1988), 81.
 Tissot paints Jesus’ face for us to see; he does not let us see the woman’s face (except in profile), though he lavishes his skill painting her multi-colored vesture and makes us see her beautiful gesture of giving: her arm and wrist and the gift in her left hand that she offers Jesus.
 We do not have access to the way Jesus “commanded” the woman to give Him water, His tone of voice. I believe that Jesus politely asked water of her, even though it appears that it is He commanding her – “Give Me a drink.” But His polite asking allows us to hear her polite asking a few verses later – “Sir, give me this water.”
 I changed the two pronouns to match my point about the woman and Jesus.
x 25:40; Mk 9:41.
* Living water: the water of life, i.e., the revelation that Jesus brings; the woman thinks of “flowing water,” so much more desirable than stagnant well water. On John’s device of such misunderstanding, cf. note on Jn 3:3.
c Sir 24:20–21; Is 55:1; Jer 2:13.
 “The well [Jacob’s Well] is fed by rainwater and underground springs and has a fresh and pleasing taste. Its walls, hewn through rock and supported with masonry, are steep; the well is ca. 30 m deep. The limestone edge is ca. 3 m in diameter. The words in John 4:6 may be translated as “Jesus sat upon (epi ἐπί) the well,” suggesting the well once had a cover. A stone was discovered in 1881 that may have served this purpose.” [Jane S. Webster, “Jacob’s Well,” ed. Katharine Doob Sakenfeld, The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2006–2009), 180.]
 Most people who write about Jesus in the Gospels do not wonder enough about the emotions of Jesus: how, with what tone and look on His face, did Jesus speak: words and emotions. Humans must master (a lifetime task) this essential “bi-lingual” capacity: being conceptually articulate, clear, and honed and being emotionally refined.
 Jesus as the “Art of Friendship” is for me is a secret Name for Jesus (no longer secret!), among my other favorite Names for Him. That is why I wanted this as the subtitle of the Faber Institute: The Art of Friendship. Many thought that I was claiming some special credential to teach the art of friendship – a new program or technique that I was hawking. No, I wanted Jesus to be the subtitle of the Faber Institute, who is the Art of Friendship (as is the Trinity itself).
f 2 Kgs 17:24–34.
 The Oxford English Dictionary at “rude” (noun and adjective). As a noun – “Impolite or discourteous people as a class.” As an adjective – “Not gentle, violent, harsh; giving out unkind or severe treatment; marked by unkind or severe treatment of people or living things.”
 We miss who a person is, and what he or she means when speaking, when we ignore his or her emotions. In fact, it is likely that when we listen to someone speaking to us, we listen first to his or her emotions, using those emotions as that which shows us what his or her words mean. Through grace, and a humble asking, we ask Jesus to teach us about his emotions, lest hearing His words we greatly misinterpret what Jesus means by them. Recall the arguments among humans: “You heard my words, but did not hear me!”, a person may with frustration yell at another. Or, “Listen to me, darn it, not to what I say!”
 See Hosea 6:6 – For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. [The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Ho 6:6.]
* Grace in place of grace: replacement of the Old Covenant with the New (cf. Jn 1:17). Other possible translations are “grace upon grace” (accumulation) and “grace for grace” (correspondence).
m 7:19; Ex 31:18; 34:28.
 See this about Leonard Cohen: https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/11/10/leonard-cohen-democracy/. “Trained as a poet and ordained as a Buddhist monk, Leonard Cohen (September 21, 1934–November 7, 2016) is our patron saint of sorrow and redemption. He wrote songs partway between philosophy and prayer – songs radiating the kind of prayerfulness which Simone Weil celebrated as “the rarest and purest form of generosity.” One of his most beloved lyric lines, from the song ‘Anthem’ – a song that took Cohen a decade to write – remains what is perhaps the most meaningful message for our troubled and troubling times: There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in. It springs from a central concern of Cohen’s life and work, one which he revisited in various guises across various songs – including in “Suzanne,” where he writes look among the garbage and the flowers / there are heroes in the seaweed, and in the iconic ‘Hallelujah’: There’s a blaze of light / In every word / It doesn’t matter which you heard / The holy or the broken Hallelujah.” Steve Lantry, SJ in a recent phone conversation reminded me of that line from Leonard Cohen (boldfaced above).
* Bruised reed …: images to express the gentle manner of the servant’s mission.