Thinking Anew: Trust is the adrenaline of being authentic
‘Abstaining from products that fatten us has always been a common practice in Lent’
Catholics pray during the celebration of Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of Lent, in Colombia. Photograph: Luis Robayo/AFP/Getty Images
Asking for things can be quite a daunting task. The reply depends on the helpfulness of another person. That helpfulness is not guaranteed and is completely absent in many situations. It was the same for Jesus when he asked the woman at the well for a drink of water. After alerting him to the fact that he had no bucket but required one, she proceeded with some helpful explanation about the tradition of the well. It is a tale as familiar as the common demand for a photographic identity, a utility bill and a helpful explanation from legislation.
We have come to accept general mistrust as normal simply because some people are untrustworthy. We tolerate a very offensive assumption against our individual natures. Most of us are proud of our trustworthiness. Very few people lie about their identity. Our identity is something good. That good enjoys no presumptions in our society and we accept that meekly. We boast of our criminal justice system and the way it treats a person as innocent until proven guilty. Nobody else gets that treatment.
In tomorrow’s Gospel, the woman at the well starts off as unco-operative. By the end of the story she becomes quite friendly with Jesus. In a simple conversation she gets to know this stranger and even invites him to her home. Like the rest of us, her cautious reaction to a stranger gave way for the human quality, risk. That is the natural way that humans deal with other. We take cautious risks and reach out to each other in trust. Trust is the adrenaline of being authentic. It is the living water to which Jesus referred.
Abstaining from products that fatten us has always been a common practice in Lent. Abstaining from attitudes that harm us is rare. Administrative trails should never forget that a person with an impeccable history might one day sin. Sinners can also learn from past mistakes and change. Generalised systems to protect people from risks are delusional. Bad people can find ways around them and good people can resent the mistrust. Best practice for a seller can be offensive insult to a purchaser. The era of free credit with the grocer until payday is a distant romance. Every generation thinks itself less honest than its grandparents’. Trust is not a privilege of a bygone era. Most of us are still fully worthy of it.
A lot of our communications are by numbers, passwords and codes. Dealing with other people directly is decreasingly common and increasingly isolating. Having a book in your hand and a chat with the bookseller is worth something extra. Chatting with strangers is usually as rewarding and enjoyable as a coffee. Typing numbers does not expose you to the people preparing your order or their stories. You don’t get enough chances to see how good people really are. Is there a danger we might forget altogether?
The stories of trust being rewarded happen all the time but rarely get mentioned. This Gospel is one of them. It would not have been worth recording if they hadn’t risked trusting each other a little bit first. Something is missing from an environment where trust is eccentric and mistrust is automatic. A prayer for a more trusting world is easy to deride but is still worth wishing for.
At Easter we celebrate the salvation of humanity. Every generation has to ask itself what it needs to be saved from. Usually it only needs to be saved from itself and, even then, only from the way it forgets how wonderful it is.
– FERGAL MAC EOINÍN