For the past couple of months, every single time I've opened up my laptop to jump on the internet to grab a recipe or respond to an e-mail, I've been bombarded with the world's apparent obsession with 50 Shades of Grey. Tidbits about the movie, the books, blog posts and news articles about the movie and the books, the soundtrack, the actors are everywhere. And, somehow it's all so very news-worthy (which astounds me, given the current international political climate).
I understand that when over 100 million copies of a book is sold, it's going to garner some serious attention. What I don't understand is why this book?
I haven't read the Fifty Shades trilogy, nor do I plan to. And Hollywood would have to cut my arm off before I'd hand over the money for a movie ticket. That being said, I have spent some time skimming through multiple news articles and blog posts, all offering perspectives from both sides of the fence, because I want to be able to dialog with other women about the books, should the opportunity arise.
Nearly every article I've covered so far has been an evaluation of the books or movie, pointing out the grave matter in each, and why they story is a terrible offense against women, a false representation of love in any form and an serious evil that should be avoided. This is all very well and good, and I support every effort out there that attempts to persuade folks to donate their books to the dumpster or to think twice about seeing the movie.
But, honestly, I think that if we're really going to reach the masses who have already been sucked into the lie that 50 Shades is in any way a worthwhile read, we have to go so much deeper than a pure dissection of the story's parts and all of the things that are morally wrong within it.
...Jesus, wearied as He was with his journey, sat down beside the well. There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink." The Samaritan woman said to him, "how is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?" Jesus answered her, If you knew the gift of God and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him and he would have given you the living water." - John 4: 6-10
We are all, in some way, the woman at the well. A woman who thirsts, but is often times content with quenching her thirst with the water that the world has to offer. Sometimes we are so thirsty that we can be convinced that even the unclean water is that which will satisfy us.
What is it that we thirst for? Happiness? Peace? To love and to be loved?
Maybe we simply thirst for a life different from our own. For many of us, the life we live now is not the life we planned for ourselves. Who, at the altar, expects to encounter such crosses as loneliness, abuse, the loss of a child, neglect, infidelity, illness or financial struggles along the marital road? Not one of us. Or, for the single person, who had hoped by now to be wed but is not, the struggle is very real. Yet, when these burdensome hardships arise, if we do not have Christ in our lives to anchor us deep in virtue, it is easy to be swept away by the lesser goods that the world has to offer.
Being swept away by the temptation into any kind of diversion from the pain of our current situation can be so very powerful, because any comfort-seeking measure temporarily helps us to forget how much life hurts. And, forgetting feels good. Whatever diversion we choose, whether it be the 50 Shades kind or something else, the end is always the same - it all leaves us thirsting for more.
As my heart felt pressed to reach out to the 50 Shades readers, the scripture from the gospel of John regarding the woman at the well unfolded in a new way for me. I thought I knew the story so well, but as I dug deeper, I began to see Jesus in a way I had never seen Him before. I saw a Jesus who came seeking not water, but a woman who was lost, a woman who thirsted, a woman whose heart's longings were deeper than the depths of the well.
We learn from the scriptures that Jesus traveled out of His way to Samaria. He placed himself in a potentially scandalous situation in order to meet and to speak to the woman at the well. He was a Jew, and he was a man. Jews did not mingle with Samarians. Men did not gather at the well. The well was a place for women to congregate, to socialize, to gossip. Even His disciples pressed Him with the question, "Why are you talking to her?"
In His perfect wisdom, His perfect love for the woman, Jesus did not tell the her why having multiple husbands was wrong, he did not go into a theological or moral pontification over the gravity of her sinful pursuits. He simply expressed to her that HE, the living water, is the only thing that can ever, that will ever quench her thirsts.
How beautiful this is.
He came for her.
He sought her out.
He offered himself unreservedly to her.
In His humanity, Jesus could speak to the woman from a place of deep understanding. He, too, had been tempted. He, too, had known (and would know) great suffering. He did not withhold from her the firmness of truth: she was living a life of sin. But, His visit with her was not simply reduced to a lengthy lecture over her indiscretions. We know that she was deeply touched by His mercy, His understanding and His promise of a real, authentic, fulfilling love, because she ran into the city to share her story with others.
Could it be that Jesus knew that the woman at the well was already very aware that her life of sin was wrong, but what she didn't know, or rather, what she didn't trust was that the Lord could fulfill the longings in her heart more than anyone or anything else?
Are we, the Christian women of today, perhaps walking in her very same shoes? When the disordered content of books like 50 Shades of Grey is not enough to shock us, to offend us (aside from the disturbingly graphic sexual content of the story, the psychotic character, Christian Grey actually uses a wooden cross as an instrument of torture on his victims) I have to wonder if the strong temptation to read on is more a matter of trust.
Simply accepting the fact that reading the book is wrong isn't enough motivation to put it down. The reader, or any of us for that matter, must also trust that Christ knows our every thirst, our every longing, our every pain, and that He will go out of his way to meet us where we are and to love us through our pain, just as He did for the woman at the well.
It is not enough for someone to say to the anorexic, EAT! Your body needs nourishment, you could die if you don't eat. It is not enough to say to the alcoholic, stop drinking! Can you not see how destructive your behavior is when you drink. This is true for every single one of our sins for every single sinful temptation that we struggle with. Acknowledging the temptation and the sin is just the beginning (just as Jesus told the woman of her sin), but it is not the end. The end comes when we open ourselves to the One True Lover of our Souls, Jesus Christ, and allow ourselves to receive Him, the healing water, the only water that will quench our thirst.
Tomorrow, Ash Wednesday, we begin the season of Lent. This is the time of year when we are invited to step back and examine our lives and ourselves in relation to Christ. For those of us who are Catholic, we receive the ashes upon our forehead, reminding us or our mortality, Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.
The ashes also represent everything on this earth that has no eternal value, the things that we cling to, the things that we believe satisfy us, but truly leave us thirsting for something more.
This Lent, may we find the courage to let go of those very things that separate us from the love of Christ. May we find also the strength to leave them in the ashes, so that our hearts might be open to receive Him, the living water, who has come for us, who will continue to go out of His way in pursuit of us, so that in His love we might find the deepest satisfaction of our every longing in Him alone.