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Posted March 24, 2011

Book: Wondrous Encounters: Scripture for Lent
Author: Richard Rohr
St. Anthony Messenger Press, Cincinnati, OH. 2011. Pp. 143

An Excerpt from the Preface:

I wrote these Scriptural reflections during my lenten hermitage in Arizona in 2010. They came very easily and even quickly, which is the gift of long times of silence and solitude. I hope they will be a gift to you, especially to any of you who want to go deeper yourselves, or have been charged with the great work of preaching or teaching.

I suggested the title to the editors at St. Anthony Messenger Press because I was experiencing being caught up in a wondrous loop of realizations that kept tightening, revealing, and confirming themselves at ever deeper levels. There was the inner prayer that found itself in outer Scriptures, and written Scriptures that allowed me to trust and affirm my inner experience. There was a clear downward death cycle in the lenten readings which was inherently becoming an upward life cycle. It was a most contemplative time, and yet the social implications of the Scriptures were also undeniable from such a spacious place. Action and contemplation were in a clear embrace, needing and loving one another.

It was indeed wondrous for me how the synchronicities, signs and symbols were soon appearing everywhere — in my study, in my prayer, in my lone desert nature walks, and on the written page. The days were a constant flow. By the time I got to Holy Saturday, I realized that what I would consider almost all of the major themes of Scripture, or at least Scripture as I understood it, had found their way onto paper! So I suggested that this not be presented as daily meditations, although I hope it would be that too, but a lenten-based encounter with the Bible itself. Not just “what” is the Bible, but more “how” we can interpret the Scriptures for ourselves, and grow through these parallel situations today. Not so much information as an experience of transformation, not so much explanation as Encounter itself.

An Excerpt from the Book:

Third Sunday of Lent: If we but knew the gift of God!

This long and truly mystical Gospel story of the Samaritan woman at the well was already used by the early church in immediate preparation of the new candidates for baptism on Holy Saturday. All the elements of invitation, disclosure, unfolding levels of meaning, intimacy, reciprocity, and enlightenment are here for the taking. This multileveled story surely deserves our overall theme of a “wondrous encounter” of giver, given, and gift.

As is often the case, the story is also a reversal theme (who is giving to whom?), a first-level misunderstanding, an ethical bump in the road, and a deeper conversation, all to move the sincere reader to a needed seeking and questioning, which is exactly what we should want in all Christian beginners. This text could actually be used to exemplify a non-fundamentalist approach to Scripture, as Jesus leads the woman beyond her first literal understanding to an inner and spiritual understanding of what is actually happening. Further, he uses the moment to lead to an interfaith understanding too: “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him will worship in Spirit and truth.

The Story exemplifies Jesus’ noninterest in the religious culture and ‘denominationalism’ of his own day. He not only talks to a strange woman alone ( to the scandal of the disciples), but points out that the truth claims of both groups, Jews and Samaritans, are of no final interest to God. “The hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither here on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. . .authentic worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth”: he repeats this twice, and the second time even more strongly. It is really quite amazing, and one wonders how we continue to defend such artificial divisions to this day, given this statement.

Of course, the whole point is that unless you experience the Spirit, which Jesus says is “the water that I will give which will turn into a spring within you, welling up unto eternal life,” the whole thing falls apart. If one has not made contact with the Spirit Spring of Water, we will always define ourselves by nonessentials and cultural accidents and external forms and formulas.

And then Jesus leads her to a sweeping and usually unnoticed concluding vision: “Open your eyes and see! The fields are shining for the harvest, the reaper can collect his wages now, the reaper can already bring in the grain of eternal life! The reaper and the sower can rejoice together. You can hear Jesus’ excitement at the possibilities. Why? Partly because it is all happening now! The word already or now is together conflates any notion of time between action and reward. The sowing is the reaping.

We could also say that he is the reaper and she is the sower, and whatever is happening is happening right now. He has leapt beyond all boundaries of time, morality, and religion to announce a universal and gratuitous victory for God and for humanity that is taking place in the present tense! This really is great stuff, which could still reform Christian pettiness and divisions, or any notion of the Gospel as a reward/punishment system that comes after death.

Table of Contents:

Meditations on the forty days of Lent readings