Boundaries: A Poem Drawn from the Well of Jacob by Marcia Mount Shoop

kikuchi valley, waterfall and light lay in the forest, kikuchi, kumamoto, japan

Today is the day in the Christian church year that we remember Jesus’ last supper with his friends/chosen family before he was betrayed by some of those same friends/chosen family. He talked to his beloved circle that night about many things, including betrayal and their capacity to embody Divine Love in a broken world after his death. Just a few days later he was executed by the Roman government because his prophetic and compassionate life was a threat to the powers that be of his day–both governmental and religious. In honor of this day in my faith tradition, I share a poem I wrote about one of the women in Jesus’ life before he was executed by Empire. Since Jesus’ death, he was kidnapped again by multiple Empires who have used him to put an ecclesial and even divine seal of approval on systems of oppression and genocide. The woman at the well gives us a window into Jesus the liberator. May we have space to remember him today as another Easter Sunday approaches for Christians around the world.

Boundaries: A Poem Drawn from the Well of Jacob

A diary of boundedness tells stories
of tending and mending,
lending and spending ourselves,
extending our hearts, our bodies unbound
Our souls, our spirits, finally found
Undrowned by the wells of the past
And set free for living water at last.

We drip tales of limitations and border crossings
Our brains washed in lies like nations and belongings,
states and property lines skew the stories we tell
The ways we think our lives are only parallel
to each other.

It’s all well and fine, this boundary talk
when oppression is the house we inhabit.
But what are boundaries in freedom’s walk?
What binds us when we no longer bathe
in the delusion of separation, in the haze
of independence?

Can we share the revelry of uniqueness, of flourishing bones?
Move to the music of our shouts, our songs, our moans?
Can we dance around the well that will never run dry,
The water that washes, that floats, that runs by
the seat of our maker, the poetic creator,
Who dreamed up this elegant tragedy we call life?

The truth is boundaries are strange artifacts,
fruit of futility, remnants of attacks,
of the cruelty we can’t seem to help but
repeat, lather, rinse, and repeat.

Jesus at the well of the ancestors–meets a sibling weary from it all.
This family of things that has her trapped in serial marriages
to brothers upon brothers to keep her legit.
The deaths, the transactions of her humanity never quit.
She is no one without all the hims who lay claim,
all the he’s that mark her with his name.
That’s the definition of her one wild life.
You are no one without a man to claim you,
no one, no matter what, no matter who,
there is no you without the him and the glue
that binds and entwines, that ensnares and spares
no one from its demands

Jesus meets her there, and asks for a drink
I cringe with that demand. I think
that’s so arrogant, so crass.
Get your own water Jesus!
Get off your morass!

Can’t you see she’s exhausted?
She’s carrying the water for too many now.
Forget that Samaritan/Jewish row
She is entrapped by the fathers, the brothers, the caste,
systems that you, Jesus, say will never last.

So don’t ask her to give you a drink. Give her a break,
for God’s sake! Can’t we cut to the chase–let’s get to the
freedom part–to the living water you say that you are.
The way this story gets told–it’s old, old enough to know better.
We need something more than Paul’s letters
about sin and all the scrapes he’s been in

So, back to the boundaries, maybe this is one
we have decided to set
no more energy spent on the rule of the fathers.
No more time obsessed with the coffers,
the scoffers, the ones who always want more
so the lesser becomes evil instead of the score
being settled for once and for all.

The boundary shouldn’t be about culture
or gender, race, ability, or class,
or who can keep going longer, who can outlast.

Let’s set boundaries on meanness, not on cleanness.
Let’s draw the line at violence, at the lies,
at the stealing… let’s get the stick across the sand
in the place where the ones stand
who have had more than enough of the stalling
of the stone-walling
about what needs to change
about whose behavior is out of range
of normal. That normal is killing us all.

So back to the well, to the woman who came to Jesus that day.
She has so much to teach us about our own lost way.
We are walking in circles that won’t free us,
that don’t feed us or see us–or leave us with much choice
but to boundary ourselves against the unrelenting fray
of the misguided disciples, the Christians of our day.

We feel it, don’t we? The scrutiny closing in.
The legislatures passing laws about our kin.
About our siblings in drag, our friends in transition,
about our children learning the truth of our history.
The laws just keep passing, and passing, and passing.
And before we know it we are drowning in all the harassing,
in a poisoned well,
the medicine of the water tables contaminated.
And we’re all left, thirsty, choking, dehydrated.

How can we live this way any longer?
The earth herself can’t cry out any louder.
Let’s get back to the well quickly
and see if Jesus is still there–to tell again
who we are, how we’ve strayed, how the living water
can tell us everything we’ve ever done.

Boundaries can save us, they can murder us, too.
They can stave off the toxins, they can creep in as abuse.
We can’t seem to free ourselves from confusion
from what is supportive and what is exclusion,
about the difference between actual threats to our well being,
and the opportunities to finally start the deep healing.

That’s what the living water can clear up, can frame.
The difference between the lines that maim, that shame and blame,
and the lines that connect.
The difference between the shared fabric
and the unnecessary static
that human greed has created.
How do the margins protect our softness
instead of kill us softly
with the battle songs of mine, ours,
and over my dead body.

The living water must mean
no more dead bodies
piled up in graves
secret and full of those
whose human dignity
needs the boundary that God
tried to set at the very beginning
when God said it was good.

That was us, you know, back in the day
Back in that ancient creative display.
We were what God called good–all of us.
All the birds and grasses and great waters.
All of it was called good, the sons, the daughters
the two-spirits, the tiny ones, the giants, the plants
The four-leggeds, the millipedes, and the diligent ants.

The water we draw from Jacobs well is not where we go to remember.
It’s back to the primordial waters, there we claim our shared splendor.
And the good news can spread from that great pool of creation.
Jesus was trying to tell us he was not to ever be claimed by one nation.
He never meant to be the colonizer, a killer of culture.
He was never here to be a capitalist, a divinely appointed vulture.
He does not feed on our suffering, he does not sanction oppression.

Jesus is more like the ocean
than a king.
Jesus is flowing, mighty, mysterious, and full of life.
Not violent, not opulent, not the author of strife.
The reason he turned over the tables and talked of swords
is that he understands what gets our attention.
The one who made us is not immune from frustration,
from sorrow,
from wondering if this human experiment
will even make it to tomorrow.

The woman at the well is us–she is you, she is me.
She is the whole lot of us, the collective, the we.
The ones thirsty and tired, the ones marked,
the ones barred
from knowing our worth comes from God.
Not from the fathers,
not from the banks,
not from the ones who close ranks,
not from the ones with the biggest tanks.
not from the law makers,
not from the money changers,
not from the keepers of countless dangers.

The Living Waters will clear the clogged pipes of our dreams.
The world can be different,
our boundaries can break open the seams
that bind us to old ways that are getting us nowhere fast,
that confuse truth with unrelenting bombast.

May something shake loose in the lines you have drawn.
May you finally grow tired of being a pawn.
May something open within you that the living water can fill.
Open wide for the flow of Divine love to be really, really real.

Boundaries are sometimes not what they name.
They don’t protect as they claim.
They keep us tired of propping them up,
mistaken about what’s actually got us trumped-up.

Boundaries should never separate one from another.
They are ways of being connected that honor,
that give us the best chance to pause and to ponder
the fact that we are always, already together,
tangled up with each other, with everything that is.
The living water flows through us and imbues us
with the truth about this web we have tried to bind.

It took a lot for the woman at the well to tell her people
how clearly Jesus could see her entrapped in the evils
they were living by.
I wonder if they understood that she was calling them in
to a new way to see her, not just to see him.

Scripture says many believed that day
Many decided to see themselves and their sister
and their God in a new way.
With a vision of a world
born in solidarity
with balance, with right relationship,
with sincerity.

Boundaries are not lines to separate
because we are different
they are guides for us to thrive as considerate
of each one’s unique way of being one of us.

Here ends the poem, the scripture, the word
Here ends the anxiety when some lines
we’ve treasured get blurred.
Welcome the ways colors run when water flows freely.
Embrace the mystery of a God who really, really, really
believes we can find our way across lines that divide us,
and trace the threads that can make us collectively righteous.

In the name of the woman who carried all that water back in the day,
in the spirit of finally letting her have her say,
The whole world is our temple
The very ground our cathedral
The sky is our limit
Zest’s secret not cerebral
We have it in us to embody truth that sets us free
We are not bound, we are loved
and that is true for you and for me.

Author: Marcia Mount Shoop

The Rev. Dr. Marcia Mount Shoop (MDiv Vanderbilt, PhD Emory) is an author, theologian, and pastor. She serves as Pastor/Head of Staff at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church in Asheville, NC. She facilitates in ecclesial, academic, and community contexts around issues of race, gender, sexual violence, power, and embodiment. Marcia is the author of Let the Bones Dance: Embodiment and the Body of Christ (WJKP, 2010) and Touchdowns for Jesus: Lifting the Veil on Big-Time Sports (Cascade Books, 2014). She co-authored A Body Broken, A Body Betrayed: Race, Memory, and Eucharist in White Dominant Churches (Cascade Books, 2015) with Mary McClintock-Fulkerson. She also has chapters in several anthologies. Learn more about Marcia’s work at

2 thoughts on “Boundaries: A Poem Drawn from the Well of Jacob by Marcia Mount Shoop”

  1. Stunning! Inspiring! Life-infused! Life-affirming! Thank you so very much for this, Marcia.
    Margot/Raven Speaks.


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