The American novelist, teacher, and activist Anne Lamotte describes her conversion to Christ in her autobiographical Traveling Mercies. There are so many similarities between Anne’s story and the woman at the well that I thought I would share it with you…
(One night) After a while, as I lay there, I became aware of someone with me, hunkered down in the corner, and I just assumed it was my father, whose presence I had felt over the years when I was frightened and alone. The feeling was so strong that I actually turned on the light for a moment to make sure no one was there; of course, there wasn’t. But after a while, in the dark again, I knew beyond any doubt that it was Jesus. I felt him as surely as I feel my dog lying nearby as I write this.
And I was appalled. . . I thought about what everyone would think of me if I became a Christian, and it seemed an utterly impossible thing that simply could not be allowed to happen. I turned to the wall and said out loud, “I would rather die.”
I felt him just sitting there on his haunches in the corner of my sleeping loft, watching me with patience and love, and I squinted my eyes shut, but that didn’t help because that’s not what I was seeing him with. Finally I fell asleep, and in the morning, he was gone.
This experience spooked me badly, but I thought it was just an apparition, born of fear and self -loathing and booze and loss of blood. But then everywhere I went, I had the feeling that a little cat was following me, wanting me to reach down and pick it up, wanting me to open the door and let it in. But I knew what would happen: you let a cat in one time, give it a little milk, and then it stays forever. . . .
And one week later, when I went back to church, I was so hung over that I couldn’t stand up for the songs, and this time I stayed for the sermon, which I just thought was so ridiculous, like someone trying to convince me of the existence of extra- terrestrials, but the last song was so deep and raw and pure that I could not escape. It was as if the people were singing in between the notes, weeping and joyful at the same time, and I felt like their voices or something was rocking me in its bosom, holding me like a scared kid, and I opened up to that feeling – and it washed over me. I began to cry and left before the benediction, and I raced home and felt the little cat running along at my heels, and I walked down the dock past dozens of potted flowers, under a sky as blue as one of God’s own dreams, and I opened up the door to my houseboat, and I stood there a minute, and then I hung my head and said, “I quit.” I took a long, deep breath and I said out loud, “All right. You can come in.” So this was my beautiful moment of conversion.”
Dear brothers and sisters, Ann Lamotte’s story painfully reminds me – especially the part about the Sunday sermon – that most of you will not meet Christ in a significant, life-changing way during one of my homilies, no matter how much time and work I put into them. The truth about Lamotte’s conversion and the story of the Samaritan woman in the gospel today is that Christ’s coming to us most often occurs as an intrusion; as an unwanted interruption. Like the woman at the well we have our bucket in hand. It’s hot; we are thirsty; and the last thing we want is a stranger asking us questions about our private life. Christ comes to us when we just want to get on with our business. Even when we’re busy like Ann Lamont destroying ourselves. He’s there at the corner of our consciousness waiting and we are tempted to say, “Not now.”
The Samaritan woman did not come to the well to meet another man. She’d undoubtedly had enough of them. Nor did she come to the well for bible study. She did not come to the well because she heard that a Jewish prophet was going to be there giving a retreat or a lecture on spirituality. She does not leave the well with a five-point program for spiritual growth. She does not leave the well vowing to go back to church. She comes to the well on a simple errand and she leaves with a nagging question, “Could he be the one?” She has left the door ajar just enough for God to slip in.
Here’s something to consider: Perhaps conversion, and a face-to- face encounter with Jesus, is as much about God coming to us when we’re not ready for it, when we’re not expecting him, when we least want God interrupting our lives – as it is about getting our act together. Perhaps the place Jesus wants to meet us is in those nagging questions which keep us awake at night. In the panicked loneliness as the bar is closing. Maybe Jesus wants to meet us in a simple hymn that only wants to hold and rock us in its truth. Perhaps the truth in Anne Lamont’s story and the Samaritan woman’s story is that God is hunkered down in the corner of our heart and he is not going away. He is like a homeless cat who is waiting for us to open the door just little. Maybe conversion happens when we say, “I quit. You win. Come on in.”