surprising offer of living cocaine in John 4:
contextual encounters at the well with Latino inmates
in US jails
By Bob Ekblad
Intercultural reading of the Bible demonstrates that reading strategies
and interpretations vary widely and are relevant to reading communities
to the extent that they are faithful to the text, the social context
of the group, and the daily lives and concerns of individual readers.
In this article I seek to include the perspectives of Latino immigrant
inmates who participated in the Intercultural Reading of the Bible
Project. How might these people identify the contemporary equivalent
of the well and water in their communities and lives? Where are
today’s wells where contemporary Samaritans might quench
their thirst in their encounter with the Word become flesh? What
is the role of the facilitator among people who are mostly first-time
Bible readers, are outside the church, and often consider themselves
condemned by God and unable to change?
As part-time chaplain of a jail in Washington State I meet with
Mexican and American inmates twice weekly to read and discuss
our questions, the Scriptures and to pray. I met two times with
two different groups to discuss the encounter between the Samaritan
woman and Jesus in John 4 with hopes of forming partnerships with
other reading communities through the Intercultural Reading of
the Bible Project. Several insurmountable difficulties made it
impossible for me to fully incorporate this group into the project
through partnering with other groups. However due to the richness
of our discussions, the fruitfulness of several emphases, and
the unique perspective of the men with whom I read, I will present
one feature of this story that particularly engages men in jail:
the symbolic function of the well as place of encounter par excellence
between Jesus and the excluded.
Leading Bible studies in a jail presents special challenges to
the facilitator that are similar but also different from those
encountered in more stable prison environments where people have
already been sentenced and are doing their time. Our Bible study
group changes from week to week as new inmates arrive and others
are sent to prison, deported or released. County jails function
in the United States as maximum security detention centers where
people arrested for crimes committed in the immediate area of
the county are held until charged, tried and sentenced. Those
with financial means are allowed to post bail and remain free
until their sentencing or acquittal. Those unable to come up with
bail money are confined until they have either been acquitted
of their charges or have served their time. People charged with
misdemeanors can be sentenced to anywhere from one to 364 days
in the county jail. People charged with more serious crimes can
spend anywhere from two months to a year negotiating a plea agreement
with the prosecutors or fighting to overturn their charges by
trial. If the judge sentences someone to anything less than one
year, the convicted serve their time there in the county jail.
Any sentence over one year is served in one of Washington State’s
many state prisons. In addition, the jail serves as a holding
facility for immigrants detained by the Department of Homeland
Security for deportation or to serve federal prison time for repeated
illegal entry as criminal aliens.
Jail inmates are often in a state of uncertainty and crisis. In
addition, many find themselves incarcerated together with enemies
from the streets. Tensions between individuals, people’s
emotional instability due to stress from family crisis, court
troubles, or detoxing from drugs or alcohol require very deliberate
and often directive facilitation and more crafted, time-limited
Privacy issues and jail rules further limit the possibilities
of verbatim recording of Bible studies. Even if they were permitted,
recording devices would inhibit people’s participation,
as anything they said could be subpoenaed for use against the
defendant in court. The voices of the inmate participants included
in this article were written down from memory outside the jail
and then translated into English.
As I prepare to facilitate a Bible study on John 4 in Skagit County
Jail it is easy to notice that my own social location among Latino
immigrant inmates loosely parallels Jesus’ status before
the Samaritan woman. As a Caucasian, English-speaking, US citizen,
educated, male I represent the dominant mainstream American culture
in a way loosely paralleling Jesus’ Jewish, male identity.
My parents were both born in the United States. My grandfather
on my father’s side migrated from Sweden in the first decade
of the twentieth century, while on my mother’s side my descendants
go back to some of the first English settlers in the 1700s. I
grew up as a fairly privileged member of the dominant US ethnicity,
and benefited from many opportunities, including an undergraduate
and graduate education. I now am an ordained Presbyterian pastor,
jail chaplain and director of an ecumenical ministry to immigrants
called Tierra Nueva (New Earth).
My corresponding passing through Samaria and sitting by the well
began in 1981 with a life-changing trip to Central America. Encounters
with contemporary equivalents of the Samaritan woman now consist
in weekly Spanish-English Bible studies in the jail and with Latino
immigrants at Tierra Nueva’s Family Support Center. Every
Thursday evening and Sunday afternoon uniformed jail guards usher
me through the thick steel doors into the jail’s multipurpose
room to meet with 10-30 men. The guards then corral red-uniformed
inmates through two steel doors take their places in the circle
of blue plastic chairs where we sit and read the Bible together.
The men with whom I read more closely resemble Samaritan villagers
than I embody Jesus. Many are originally peasants from impoverished
rural villages in Mexico. Pushed away by landlessness, drought,
unemployment, government neglect and global market forces, they
are drawn to the perceived bounty of El Norte (the USA)—a
modern-day well of sorts. Once in the United States they find
work as farm laborers or minimum-wage restaurant, construction
or factory workers. Their willingness to work hard for low wages
makes them invaluable to the US economy. Many have entered the
United States illegally, and live on the margins of American society.
Others are second-generation immigrants identified by first generation
immigrants as “pochos” or “cholos,” if
they belong to a gang. Many do not have valid driver’s licenses
or even identification and make use of counterfeit residency and
social security cards. Others have had their drivers licenses
confiscated due to driving offences and have alias names in an
attempt to escape arrest for active warrants or known illegal
immigration status. Most have partners and children to support,
sometimes in Mexico and in the USA. This is a near impossible
feat when making minimum wage. Many people are tempted and succumb
to small-scale drug dealing for extra cash. This often leads people
into more serious drug dealing. Theirs’ is a life of constant
insecurity. If ever arrested for anything undocumented immigrants
can be assured that they will be deported by the Department of
Homeland Security back to Mexico immediately after doing their
The visible gap between me as facilitator and my immigrant - inmate
reading community has often provoked new insights that have proved
fruitful in engaging people in reflection on particular texts.
An event associated with a Bible study on John 4 several years
before the launching of the Intercultural Reading of the Bible
Project inspired my later reflections on the symbolic function
of the well. This event illustrates the special challenges that
can require a more directive facilitation style and the urgency
of coming up with contextualized interpretation, one way or another.
During one of my Thursday evening Bible studies eight years or
so ago some 30 inmates bustled into the jail’s multipurpose
room and the guards shut the doors, locking us in the room together.
I had arranged the plastic chairs in a large circle. Once seated
I invited the men to pray with me for God to send the Spirit to
illuminate our reading and discussion. I noticed from the start
that there was an uneasy tension in the room as finished the prayer
invoking the Holy Spirit. On this occasion I invited a volunteer
to read John 4:1-15.
During the reading and immediately afterwards I found myself distracted
by a number of people’s nervous glances and aggressive glares.
Several pairs of men talked softly to each other. Pukie, a mustached
gang member in his early twenties with his shoulder heavily bandaged
from a gun shot wound he acquired in an attempt to rob at gunpoint
the home of another drug dealer looked especially agitated. Stimy,
a heavily-tattooed young white guy on his way to six years in
prison for a drive-by shooting sits sullenly in the middle of
the men to my left.
I reach into my store of methods for engaging distracted people,
directing my first questions to people who were talking or glaring.
“Who are the participants in this story?” When nobody
answered I invite Pukie, the most agitated in the group, to reread
John 4:4-8, and then ask the men again to identify the story’s
characters. After getting feeble responses I continued with my
questions, addressing this one to Stimy: “So where are they
and what’s happening in this story?”
“Shit I don’t know man, I wasn’t paying attention,”
says Stimy, looking down at his Bible. “At some well, I
guess, talking and shit.”
While these questions work to some extent, people were less engaged
than I could ever remember and tensions continued to mount. I
am increasingly aware that I need either more engaging questions
or an attention-grabbing story to captivate their interest. In
a last ditch effort to salvage a Bible study that was spinning
out of control I launch into my own contextual interpretation
in a more monologuing, even preaching style.
Since I know that many of the men in the group are long-time drug
dealers and/or addicts I invite the men to imagine that they are
selling drugs out of their apartment, a quickly-grasped attempt
to present a contemporary equivalent to the well. I am drawing
on my experience talking with hundreds of addicts about their
desperation to acquire more crack cocaine, which often propels
them into selling drugs themselves to assure their own supply.
Most local dealers who operate out of low income apartments or
“So there you are, and Jesus comes up to your door, but
you don’t know who he is. He just looks like some normal
gabacho (white person), maybe like me. He says, “hey, sell
me some coke,” or “sell me some crack.”
The men all look at me, some smiling uneasily, others clearly
wondering what I am going to say next.
I continue my monologue, suggesting what I imagine that Latino
drug dealers -Samaritan women might be thinking.
“You wonder if you can trust him, and inside you are thinking
this is an undercover drug task force officer trying to make a
sting operation. You say to him: “No way man, I can’t
help you,” and wish he’d just go away. But he keeps
insisting on talking with you.
“Hey, listen,” he tells you. “If you knew God’s
gift and if you knew who it is who is asking you to sell him some
cocaine, you’d ask him and he would give you living crack.
Because the crack that you smoke only gives you a high for a moment,
and you have to keep buying more, but the coke that I will give
you will give you a permanent high.”
Many of the men have raised eyebrows, and seem surprised, even
shocked. I suggest at this moment that this story shows us that
Jesus comes to us where we are and respect us. Many of the men
though are fidgeting nervously and glancing across the circle
and then down. Willie, a Chicano gang member I have been meeting
one-on-one with, who is sitting beside me, taps me on the shoulder
and insists that he wants to go back to his cell.
“We need to wrap this up Roberto, now” he tells me
with urgency in his voice.
I tell the men that it appears we’re all having a hard time
getting focused, and that maybe we should end our study early.
I invite them to stand and pray the Lord’s Prayer together
Everyone stands and I close my eyes and begin the prayer. Right
away I notice that only a few people are praying with me and I
hear increasing rustling around me. I speed up my prayer and race
for the closing “libranos del mal” deliver us from
evil—the official ending of the Roman Catholic Spanish version
of the prayer. I open my eyes to a scene of terror.
The men to my left all have blue plastic chairs raised over their
heads, the metal legs ready to crash down upon the men on my right,
whose chairs are all in different stages of being raised. A Native
American man has a leaded microphone jack raised above his head
like a tomahawk ready to come down on Willie’s head. I walk
quickly through the middle of the crowd to the buzzer on the wall
that calls the guards. Almost instantly they are on the scene,
hustling the men against the wall and out the doors into their
pods. I stand there stunned, my heart beating wildly, feeling
foolish and impotent. The guards usher me out and I drive home
completely dejected. The next morning I call into the jail and
ask to speak with Willie.
He immediately begins apologizing and then starts to cry. “I’m
so sorry Roberto. It was my fault. I had it all planned with my
homeboys, the nortenos. We were all going to jump the others there
in the group who were sudenos. One of them had insulted Stimy,
saying his girl friend was pregnant with someone else’s
baby. We don’t take those kinds of insults lightly. We had
it all planned to fight them right at the beginning of the study,
but didn’t out of respect for you. Man, I’m really
sorry for what happened. That Bible study though has been going
through my mind all night. Mostly though I want to thank you for
your prayer. That prayer stopped everything man,” he concluded.
“Prayer, what prayer?” I ask. “You know, that
prayer right at the end.”
“What do you mean it stopped everything?” I ask.
Willie alerts me to the fact that nobody hit anyone, that everyone
had their chairs raised over their heads ready to fight, but that
he had felt completely paralyzed, unable to move the moment that
I had finished my prayer.
I think back to the night before and recall that there were in
fact no blows that I could remember. I had walked right through
the middle of the warring gangs to buzz for the guards. “Libranos
del mal – deliver us from evil” had been my last words.
I find Willie’s explanation unbelievable but intriguing
and thank him and tell him that I didn’t hold anything against
him. After hanging up I call Pukie, who tells me nearly the same
thing. That the Bible study was in his head all night and thanks
for the prayer that stopped everything. The story spreads through
the jail and then the Latino community about how the pastor stopped
a gang confrontation with a prayer. This event clearly engraved
both a particular way to contextualize John 4 and the power of
the ending of the Lord’s Prayer into my heart. At the same
time I recognize the limitations of a monologue, seeking ways
to engage people that help them identify contemporary equivalents
of the Bible characters, movements and geography in their own
lives and communities.
The studies I led two years ago with Latino immigrants in the
jail with the Intercultural Reading of the Bible Project clearly
benefited from this earlier experience. There in the face of escalating
tensions, I felt an urgent need for the Bible story to somehow
become more obviously relevant through some sort of immediate
relectura or actualization. I also am convinced that there is
a place for the facilitator to take the initiative in introducing
contextual readings that go beyond people’s natural expectations,
grabbing their attention in a way that penetrates through their
indifference. While a contemporary rereading was not enough to
stop the confrontation from erupting, it may have held it at bay
until God became more fully present in response to our prayer.
In preparation for my more recent Bible study studies on John
4 I ponder the most accessible launching point in the story of
Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. The actual location
of the encounter where Jesus offers living water provides a fruitful
metaphor upon which I as facilitator can invite people to a contemplative
site for possible contemporary meetings between today’s
Samaritans and Jesus. The deeper meaning of the well, it’s
location outside the town and most importantly its symbolic distantiation
from any official religious place where “sinners”
would typically expect to meet God offers a surprise to people
who feel unworthy of approaching God in traditional “holy”
Jesus’ surprising presence among people who are not engaged
in overtly religious behavior in non-religious places is a consistent
theme in the stories surrounding John 4. The reader of John’s
Gospel is alerted to Jesus’ incognito presence right from
the start with statements like “he was in the world, and
the world was made through him, and the world did not know him”
(Jn 1:10). John’s description of the word becoming flesh
and dwelling (literally pitching it’s tent) among us (Jn
1:14) invites the reader to identity God as present and moving
with humans. John goes on to describe Jesus showing up outside
the traditional religious places when people are going about their
lives. The first sign of turning water into wine takes place at
a wedding (Jn 2:1-12). Nicodemus comes to him by night (Jn 3:2),
the official appeals to him at Cana and his son does nothing,
being healed from a distance in Jesus’ absence. Jesus meets
the paralytic while he is laying beside the pool—a place
symbolic of wherever people have been living in frustrated expectation
of finding relief. The feeds the five thousand on a mountain while
they are sitting passively with no apparent faith (Jn 6:1-14).
The adulterous woman is defended and pardoned outside of religious
places without her taking any initiative (Jn 8:1-11) as is the
man born blind (Jn 9:1-12) and Lazarus (Jn 11:1-46). These details
are highly significant for people on the margins of society and
church, who assume that their salvation depends entirely on their
going to the right places and doing the right things.
In my Bible studies on John 4 with inmates or others I work with
who consider themselves excluded by the church or dominant culture
I typically begin with either a first question regarding their
lives and world, or with a brief question regarding the narrative
detail of the text—specifically the characters and geography.
With people who I suspect feel wary of anything religious who
may well assume that the Biblical story is irrelevant, I usually
begin with a question about their lives and values. In the following
composite of two different jail Bible studies with Latino inmates
the text appeared to provide an ideal jumping off place to talk
about our lives as it introduces the well.
In both of my studies for the Intercultural Reading of the Bible
Project in the jail I begin with a prayer for God to send the
Holy Spirit to open our hearts and minds and then invite a volunteer
to read John 4:1-4 before briefly commenting on Jesus’ passing
through Samaria. I give them a brief description of behind the
text information about Samaria, its location outside of acceptable
Jewish religious places, and the religious and ethnic divisions
that existed between Jews and Samaritans that do not keep Jesus
from showing up.
I ask another volunteer to read John 4:5-8 and ask some basic
questions to get people to pay attention to some of the narrative
detail in this evolving story.
“Who are the characters in this story and what do we know
about them up to this point?” I ask.
“There’s Jesus, who has been passing through Samaria
and sits by a well tired and thirsty,” someone says.
“Then who comes along?” I probe, inviting the men
to look back down at their Bibles.
“There’s a Samaritan woman who comes to draw water,”
I talk briefly about the importance of wells for people in the
first century. “Everyone needed water to meet their most
basic needs: to quench their thirst, water their animals, irrigate
any crops, wash their clothes and bodies”, I say.
“Do any of you go to wells to meet your most basic needs?”
I ask, a question that I know will acknowledge our distance from
the world of the text.
They shake their heads and someone answers the obvious. “None
“So where do you go when you are thirsty for something,
or when you are seeking to meet your most urgent needs?”
I ask, seeking to inspire reflection on possible contemporary
“I go to church,” says a man who is a newcomer to
our jail Bible study group. While this may indeed be where he
would go, I suspect that he is trying to please me and God by
giving the spiritually correct answer.
If people look uncertain about what I am trying to ask or are
not feeling enough trust to answer honestly I often re-phrase
“What do people you know do or where do they go to find
satisfaction, to meet their needs?” Or, “if you were
released right now for 24 hours where are the first three places
“To the bar,” says a Mexican farm worker in his early
thirties. People smile and some nod.
“I’d go to my girl friends place man,” says
a young Chicano gangster known as Neeners. Neeners has 666 tattooed
under his lower lip and the names of past girl friends tattooed
on his neck. People laugh and nod their agreement.
“To the crack house,” says a heavily-tattooed Chicano
man. A number of men rock back in their plastic chairs and laugh.
“Hey wait a minute,” interjects Neeners. “You
may not believe this, but I go to jail to get my real needs met.”
This is the only place right here where I feel like I can think
straight and get my shit together. Coming in here to study the
Bible and shit helps me gain a new perspective,” he says.
These answers loosen up the group, and men mention other places
they frequent or activities: the mall, heroin, sex, music, family,
dealing drugs, cars, work, partying, dancing.
“So do these places and activities give you total satisfaction?”
I ask. “Do you feel like you are able to meet your needs?”
“No way homes,” says Ben. “Look, here we are,
all of us stuck in here. I ain’t satisfied by my life, not
out there, not in here. None of us are.”
Ben’s answer seems to resonate with most of the men, who
nod their agreement that nothing really satisfies them.
“I’ve had everything money can buy: cars, women, drugs,
money, jewelry. I’ve never been satisfied,” says someone.
“I know that I’m still thirsty for something.
Others nod their heads in agreement.
“So, the woman from Samaria shows up at the well to get
the water she needs to survive, and Jesus is already there,”
I summarize. “What might this mean for us?” I ask.
“If this story tells us where Jesus hung out back then,
what does it suggest about where we might run into Jesus now?”
The men are tentative in responding to the obvious. They look
at me and down at their Bibles awkwardly, afraid to say something
blasphemous. They start with safer responses.
“Could this be saying that Jesus may come to us when we
are out working?” someone asks.
“Well, if that is a place where you are seeking to meet
your needs, the place where you work would be a sort of well.
Where else do you go to satisfy your needs, to quench your thirst?”
Eyebrows are raised and I see some slow nods and slight smiles.
However at this point I am aware that I am running into serious
resistance from a dominant theology deeply ingrained in the hearts
and minds of Latino immigrants and most Caucasian men and women
on the margins of North American society. The dominant theology
envisions God as being found in Catholic or evangelical churches,
and other religious places, or far away in heaven looking at the
earth from a distance. Some may envision God as being near a religious
shrine in the corner of their home, when candles are lit before
the Virgin of Guadalupe or other saints. No one would naturally
envision God as meeting them at the above mentioned places where
they would actually frequent to meet their actual physical and
The Bible is another place that people would naturally view as
a sacred site for God’s presence. However, most inmates
assume that the Bible is too holy a place for them to feel welcomed
into. The Bible is not viewed as containing refreshing, surprising
good news for people like them. The only people who might hear
good news are good people who are complying with God’s infinite
demands. Many Latino inmates fear that the Bible will confirm
their worst fears: that they are damned because they cannot succeed
at obeying the rules or because they avoid exposing themselves
to new demands. Do this, believe that…change or else. The
Bible is not viewed as offering anything that would meet any of
their most pressing needs. Consequently whoever facilitates the
Bible study is viewed as someone who invites them into a foreign,
irrelevant place associated with punishment for crimes committed.
People’s first time attendance at my Bible studies are often
motivated by their boredom with the monotonous life in their cell
blocks or by their sense of desperation leading them to do everything
possible to comply with God’s demands that they comply with
“If today’s wells are places where we go to quench
our thirst like bars, crack houses, and meth labs, what do you
think of Jesus’ question to the woman: “Give me a
drink”? I ask, inviting a direct confrontation with the
I believe that my question which overtly invites people to interpret
Jesus’ presence in a way that challenges the dominant theology
directly parallels Jesus’ provocative request to the Samaritan
woman: “give me a drink” (4:7). My inmate Bible study
participants often fear departing from the official transcript,
especially when they are detained by the State, which appears
to have received power sanctioned by the all-powerful God. Standing
with Jesus whose request shows total solidarity with them in their
thirst is a challenge to the entire system. Embracing this challenge
appears risky. What if God in fact legitimates and upholds the
power of the State? Their embracing of a God with them right where
they are rather than renouncing their wells in breast-beating
repentance may be perceived to lead to further sanctions in the
form of more jail time or a guaranteed deportation.
The woman’s response to Jesus parallels inmates gut response
to the interpretation I suggest. I ask a volunteer to read John
The Samaritan woman therefore said to him, “how is it that
you, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?”(For
Jews have no dealings with Samaritans).
The woman’s questioning of Jesus’ openness to her
reflects both her and inmate equivalent Samaritans recognition
that they are being called to ignore traditional boundaries. She
reflects a hesitancy to move beyond the official transcript. At
the same time, her hidden transcript apparently is not as risky
as Jesus’. Jesus, a Jewish male who would normally view
himself as superior to and forever separate from an unclean Samaritan
woman is willing to receive from and drink her water.
“Let’s see how Jesus responds to the woman?”
I suggest, inviting someone to read John 4:10.
I invite the men to imagine what Jesus’ offer of living
water might sound like to them, if he were to actually meet them
at their particular wells where they actually go to quench their
Knowing full well that I am inviting people to risk blasphemy,
I myself suggest a contextual rereading of this verse based on
one of the men’s identification of the crack house as his
Is it possible that Jesus’ answer might sound something
like this,” I ask. “Ïf you knew the gift of God,
and who is who says to you, ‘Give me some cocaine,’
you would have asked him, and he would have given you living cocaine”?
The men smile hesitantly at first and then begin to see that indeed
Jesus is not taking the expected sermonizing, judging tone they
assume he would have. Nor am I. When we read on in John 4:13-14
“everyone who drinks of this water shall thirst again; but
whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never
thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him
a well of water springing up to eternal life” the men can
see that Jesus is talking about more than actual water, cocaine,
or whatever the contemporary equivalent of the contents in the
well might be. At the same time, to help people identify God’s
surprising presence there outside the religious spaces where they
would least expect God, I ask another question.
“Have any of you experienced God as being present with you
in a positive, helpful way while your were drinking or doing drugs?”
Several men start talking at the same time, feeling permission
to express a hidden transcript that they had never expressed public
ally to anyone. Arnold tells of how he would often drive home
after drinking and doing drugs and that he never got in an accident
even though in the morning he would have no memory of having driven
his car the night before. Another man tells about how God speaks
to him when he is high, making him feel a hunger for God’s
Presence and for reading the Bible. Neeners tells about how as
a teenager he prayed to God while he was stealing car stereos
that he would not be caught, and how he felt God’s protection.
Another man mentions that is a miracle that he and many of them
are alive at all. He went on to tell the group how he is sure
that if the police had not arrested him and brought him to the
jail this time, he would be dead from an overdose. God allowed
me to be arrested to save my life and bring me here to get closer
to God. Through these stories the men identify God as a gracious
presence who accompanies them despite their crimes and brokenness.
When we read together Jesus’ order for her to return for
the living water with her husband and note that Jesus’ offer
was given with full knowledge that she had had five husbands,
the men become more confident that this new theology may be believable.
“So if Jesus reveals God’s true identity, as it says
in different places in John’s Gospel, what is God like according
to this story, “I ask, inviting the men to summarize this
positive theology for themselves.
“Jesus comes to people right where they are, no matter what
they’re doing or if they’re messed up and shit,”
“He offered living water to the woman even though he knew
she’d lived a bad life and without making her change first,”
says someone else.
The men are visibly moved as we glimpse together Jesus’
startling solidarity with people as apparently messed up as this
Samaritan woman. Jesus seems more approachable now that they have
seen his offer of living water, no strings attached to an undeserving
I ask the men how many of them feel thirsty, desirous of this
living water that Jesus offers. Everyone raises their hand or
nods. An idea pops into my head that seems rather extreme but
I invite the men to imagine a 40 ounce can of the least expensive
and highest alcohol content malt liquor preferred by people on
the street known as a “forty.” I invite them to imagine
that it contains the living water that Jesus offers that will
permanently quench their thirst instead of the old, well-known
malt liquor. At this point everyone is clear that the living water
Jesus offers is not actual water much as the malt liquor equivalent
I invite them to drink is not literal malt liquor. I invite them
to pop off the top and raise it up and drink freely together as
I pray. Everyone pops the tops and we raise up our imaginary cans
together over our mouths while I pray: “Jesus we receive
your gift of living water. We drink it down into our beings. Satisfy
us with your loving, gracious Presence.”
Everyone crosses themselves in a way that I have come to recognize
means they have been deeply touched. I leave for home feeling
like I have shared living water at a place that functions regularly
like a life-giving well for me: Skagit County Jail. I return again
the next Sunday, hoping that trust has grown between them an God,
each other, the Bible and myself as pastor and facilitator. My
hope is that my presence, however directive or incomplete, would
somehow fit within the company of Jesus and the woman, who both
in their own ways bring people into authentic encounters with
the source of living water.
E. Robert Ekblad Jr.
Tierra Nueva and The People’s Seminary, Burlington, Washington,