Bill Creed, a Jesuit from Loyola here in Chicago, sent me his plan for retreats with homeless men last year. I've been reviewing that and he has some good ideas. One is to have an early session that opens people up, encouraging vulnerability with one another. This is pretty important if the retreat is to be a good one.

So I thought I'd try that using the beginning of the woman at the well story (the part I quoted yesterday). I'd like to focus the discussion on certain passages:

Jesus, wearied as he was with his journey, sat down beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink."

Jesus was thirsty. Just like any of us, he felt the basic needs that are part of being human, the needs God has given us. Thirst, hunger, fatigue, etc. These seem to be given to show us that we are not complete in ourselves, that we need—that we need the help of others, that we need what God gives, that we need God. So it's important to pay attention to the needs we feel, from the most basic to the deepest ones inside us.

What are we thirsty for right now? What needs are you feeling, whether they're simple or complex, emotional, physical, or spiritual?

The leader should answer first, to set the tone and be the first to open up. Hopefully this discussion will encourage vulnerability with one another by admitting what we lack, where we need help and support.

The Samaritan woman said to him, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?"

Jewish people of that time did not interact with the Samaritans, and in that culture men did not mingle with woman who were not their wives or in their own family. So the Samaritan woman was surprised that Jesus asks her for help. Often we are reluctant to ask certain people for help, especially if they are very different from us or we do not respect them. But many times God chooses precisely these people to meet our needs, to help build respect for one another and teach us to trust those who seem strange or suspicious (or useless) to us.

Have any of us experienced this? Do you remember times when God helped you through the person you least expected?

This could also happen during this retreat. We need to be open to this.

Jesus said to her, "Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw."

In the last line, the Samaritan woman shows that the daily drawing and carrying water from the well is a burden to her. The difficulty of meeting her own needs weighs heavy on her, as it does with most people. This can also become a burden of fear, if we might lose the ability to provide for ourselves (or our families), or others can gain control over our lives if they are in the position to decide if our needs will be met. Certain needs can also become an obsession for us. We can never get enough, we are never satisfied, and so we are driven to do things that make our lives miserable and may even hurt those closest to us.

Do we feel burdened by the pressure to provide for our needs? Are there certain thrists that have become obsessive for us?

Jesus says, "Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water...." Notice that it is a gift, not something we provide for ourselves. And Jesus promises that it will satisfy us completely, so we need not be driven by our thirst again.