“Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest,
where thou makest thy flock to rest at noon:
for why should I be as one that turneth aside
by the flocks of thy companions?
If thou know not, O thou fairest among women,
go thy way forth by the footsteps of the flock,
and feed thy kids beside the shepherds’ tents.” (Song of Solomon 1:7-8)
In the previous two verses, the Lover described the unhappy familial situation: the angered brothers and sisters of the Lover forced the Lover to work long hours in the vineyard. The Lover is so wrought with overwork that the Lover’s skin has become tanned and leathery. These unjust familial responsibilities have kept the Lover from the Beloved, so the Lover cries out to the Beloved, “Where are you? Tell me!” Desperate, the Lover even suggests a visit during the Beloved’s lunch break in the heat of the day. The Lover knows that their love is as powerful enough to turn a few minutes into a thousand-year respite. Even the sun that had burned the Lover’s skin in the vineyards during the heat of the day would be as nothing when with the Beloved among his flocks.
The Samaritan Woman also had a desperate midday meeting with the Beloved (John 4:1-42). Her meeting with Christ at the well occurred in the middle of the day because of her second-class status as a Samaritan and as a whore. I can easily imagine that both the Samaritan Woman and the Lover would sing together these verses from the Psalter on their way to meet Our Lord:
“Like as the hart desireth the water-brooks*
so longeth my soul after thee, O God.
My soul is athirst for God, yea, even for the living God*
when shall I come to appear before the presence of God?
My tears have been my meat day and night*
while they daily say unto me, Where is now thy God?” (Psalm 42:1-3)
The Samaritan Woman can truly cry out, “Where is my God?” because she does not know God; she is just like the deer that is looking for the cooling streams! And it is this longing/knowing that Christ talks with her in the heat of the day, by the well. She is thirsty, so what is it that keeps her from this living water? Not only does her separated status as a Samaritan keep her away but her own sinful state with six men prevents her from drinking eternal life. After chastising her for her unjust relations, Our Lord says to her, “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation comes from the Jews.” (22, NRSV)
She worshiped what she did not know. Both the Samaritan Woman and the Lover follow hard after what they do not know or, at least, what they knew very little of. The Samaritan Woman did not really know God, as she still thought the where of worship was just as important as the who of worship. She worshiped what she did not know and Christ gives her the cup of living water which quenches the thirst of the soul. She begins to worship what she knows and her entire community is changed through this new revelation. (42)
She worshiped what she did not know. The Lover, perhaps, only knew the Beloved for a short time, before she was forced to work in the vineyards. The Lover feels only the absence of the Beloved and goes out in a rapid search for Him. In all her passionate crying of, “Where are you? Tell me!” the Lover simply responds with, “Calm down, Beautiful. Start searching for me in what you do know — Stop worshiping what you do not know.” And what is it that the Lover knows? Her own neglected vineyard, her flocks, her young goats and her shepherd’s tents. Perhaps, it is there among the familiar that the Beloved will come to her.
She worshiped what she did not know. Many of us, too, are in a frantic search – a frantic worship – of what we do not know, crying out to God the entire time,“Where are you? Tell me!” We might search for the Divine among the new and tantalizing theologies, expecting them to satisfy our desire to scratch our itching ears. We might frantically search for the Divine among the old traditional ways, yet are disappointed when even these do not quench our thirst. We might look for God in ecstatic experiences or altered states of consciousness, yet are always desperately searching again and again when these leave us empty. We worship what we do not know through addiction and sex, yet each act is simply a delirious yawp of, “Where are you? Tell me!”
And Christ’s answer is the exact same to us as it was to the Samaritan Woman: stop worshiping what you do not know. His answer to us is the exact same as it was to the Lover: go back to what you know. His answer to us is this: “You have only to look inside yourself, into that overgrown and weed-filled garden of the soul that you have neglected for so long. It is over-wrought with unjust and endless work and former beloveds have torn it to shreds. Go into the heart and there you will find me. Go into the heart and there we will walk together in your garden in the cool of the day. Find me in what you know: go within yourself and I am there.”