The woman at the well:
“Come meet the man who didn’t tell me who he was—he told me who I was.”
“When I asked him directions on how to get there, he said, ‘Oh, yes, I know where it is…but I wouldn’t start from here.’”
And everybody looks at each other to see themselves, to figure out who they are—what they must look like—on the inside. But they don't realize it; even as they unconsciously glance at their own reflections throughout the day. Everybody wants to see and be seen; to know and be known. Which means everybody is at once both blind AND invisible; both unknowing and unknown. Deep down everybody just wants to be here. Be alive.
But nobody sees these mirrors. Only vague shapes covered with cloth. With two tiny slits cut in the cloth for eyeholes. Everybody hides beneath their cloth; peeking out. Hide and seek. Can you find me? Oh, no! Don’t find me! I can’t find myself! Who are you? Who am I?
Cloth and two slits. And what’s important is to never let anyone discover who’s really looking out.
A couple of weeks ago I walked into the lounge where I work to get breakfast and I realized this about people and mirrors. There were two people on the other side of the breakfast table. They were studying. I had met them a couple of times already. Briefly. They were medical students. They were both girls. They were quiet, but tense in a “Boy, I just want to make it through another day,” kind of way. They looked at me. And I at them. Their eyes, peeking out of those slits in the cloth.
I see you. Who are you? Who am I?
I looked at them out of my own slits, sat down to start eating, and started talking about nothing really. One of the girls was Vietnamese. I told her I knew ten words in Vietnamese that were not curse words. “I know how to count one through ten.” I stumbled through them like a bad circus act. She said how her language barrier sometimes made it hard to translate the most complicated words, so she had to learn how to communicate difficult things using simpler words and come at the subject from different directions. And I was like, “I love that! That’s perfect!” We talked about how people really like to understand what you’re saying, and you can tell because their anxiety vanishes in the wind, and a smile pops out.
Our talking continued. I didn’t want anything. I just wanted to talk. We talked about life and what I learned about patients and people and myself. And how, not very long ago, I didn’t really like people, and I had gotten myself into a real hard place in life. And I was miserable. And I began to discover some things.
One of things was: I wasn’t very good at telling the truth.
The slits on my cloth ripped open a little wider. Letting in more light. Letting out more light. They’re looking at me now, you see. Staring. No one is moving. I talked about what not being truthful meant in my life and how it came to be that I began to see how destructive it was to my soul and to the the people I cared about. I talked about how you can have all these wants, and desires and goals and then wake up one day and somehow you’ve turned out to be a bad husband. A bad father. A bad human. A kind of “un-human.”
The opening in the cloth is gaping. I am emotional. They are emotional. One of the girls keeps dabbing at her eyes.
There you are. What do you see? Who are you? Who am I?
Pretty soon, the mirrors are uncovered. And now there are three mirrors all facing each other across a breakfast table—a holy space— reflecting endless patterns back and forth. Me you. You me. Light shining. Mind-boggling.
We talk about many things. I tell about how one of the things I think Jesus really offers is how to be a real human being. How to wake up and live. Right now. How to change from a wooden boy in to a real boy.
One of the girls says in a kind of awe, “What is going on here?”
And the other girl, the Vietnamese girl, says quietly as she keeps dabbing at the place her slits used to be, “I know, this is so…healing.”
God is saying to the Israelites through the symbol of Moses’s raised serpent, “That feeling of discomfort slithering and squeezing around your midsection is a sign of undealt with truth in your life. All those parts of your world you once felt ok ignoring...denying—have become obstacles—a sign of your unredeemed state—your suffering highlights your need for salvation. They—the undone things—have turned your landscape into a place where you can no longer peacefully ignore; no longer make things irrelevant. This desert of discomfort is not a place of peace. It is a place of broken relationships littering the ground around you—a place of not working on what you are supposed to be doing —of not becoming what you always should have been—of truths avoided; not ‘faced.’ I will not help by ’taking it away,’ I will help you by drawing your eye sharply to where you need to look the most—to the point of truth. If you really want help, it’s time to look here—to face the snake. Here is the hope lying within. I promise you, you can do it. I have created you to be able to handle snakes."
Can you sense the relief that the problem is actually you? For if the world is the problem; then that is hopeless.
When the pure, unadulterated relationship with God is gone; one is in exile. It doesn’t matter where: Eden, promised land, Canaan, Shiloh, Jerusalem, New York, Texas, or one’s own home. Exile is the place where one wakes up “one day” and realizes the extent of his idol worship—the extent of his enslavement. Just as surely as when one wakes up one day next to the Pillar of stone—the cross—and realizes everything he saw, everything he thought—was wrong. He had the mind of idols. This realization upon awakening—this new fear—is the fear of the Lord, it is the beginning of his wisdom.