Cabinet of Colloquial Curiosities, II: Druery

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March 7, 2021

Cabinet of Colloquial Curiosities, II: Druery

Passage: John 4:1–42

I think the story of the Samaritan Woman at the Well is so beloved because in this single vivid snapshot of a wounded woman, John shows us how Jesus constantly, relentlessly, routinely reaches out to touch and heal the least, the last, the lost, the lame, the leper, the loser, and the lonely.

I infer that she’s lonely because John tells us that Jesus meets this woman at the well around noon. This is not when Palestinian women typically fetched their daily water. They’d travel in a pack from their village homes to the regional well at dawn or dusk to avoid the heat of the day, so this woman is apparently not part of the pack, the coffee klatch, the sewing circle, the book club. John implies that she is an exile, an outcast, alone.

It’s possible that she’s excommunicate because she is a quintuple divorcée. Australian comedian Barry Humphries, whose alter ego in drag is Dame Edna Everage, was interviewing Jane Seymour—you know, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman? Jane Seymour has been married and divorced four times. Dame Edna asked her, “Tell me the secret of your successful marriages.”[1]

That Samaritan woman must bear the stigmata of those broken relationships, right? She’s still standing, bless her resilient little Samaritan heart, but she has to be wounded, at least a little bit.

Like this woman at the well, we are all a mixed, mingled, mottled mosaic of our past relationships, friendships, romances, marriages, family, collegialities. The good ones and the bad ones, the broken ones and the healthy ones, the happy ones and the sad ones, present and past.

They have all stamped and shaped us for who we are, sometimes for the worse, sometimes for the better. But we’ve taken something from everyone.

And now I’m going to reach into my Cabinet of Colloquial Curiosities and pull out an odd word. I did not know what a druery was until I read Paul Anthony Jones clever little book, and I’ll bet you don’t know either, because it’s essentially vanished from the English language.

A druery is a thirteenth-century French word for a keepsake or a love token your lover gives you. It can be anything—a ring, a bracelet, a necklace, a Petoskey stone, a curio you put in a place of honor on your desk or bookshelf.

My beloved gave me this druery. A bunch of us went to Edinburgh a couple of years ago. This is Greyfriars Bobby. Greyfriars Bobby is the wee but legendary Skye Terrier who hung out in Greyfriars Churchyard for 16 years beginning in 1856. He belonged to a night watchman named John Gray, and for two years Bobby followed John Gray on his rounds down the cobblestone streets of Edinburgh. In 1858, Mr. Gray died of tuberculosis, and for the next 14 years, Greyfriars Bobby refused to leave his grave except once a day when he would wander over to a local pub for lunch.

For 160 years, Bobby has been a fabled emblem of loyalty and love for the Scots. If you visit his prominent tombstone at Greyfriars Churchyard, you will find that admirers have left dog toys and sticks for him to fetch in whatever afterlife wee terriers inhabit once they cross the Rainbow Bridge. You can tell that Kathy loves me very much, to give me such a splendid druery.

A wedding ring is a druery. Your beloved gave it to you as a seal of her everlasting love. A while back I was reading a biography of William Shakespeare and learned how they did wedding rings in Shakespeare’s day. This has almost nothing to do with this sermon, but it’s so cool I have to tell you about it.

Back then, only brides got rings, not grooms, and the groom would wed his beloved by slipping her ring momentarily over the inner four fingers of her left hand. He would start with the thumb and proceed to the index, middle, and ring fingers, and leave it there on the fourth finger.

He would say, “With this ring, I thee wed, in nomine Patris, in nomine Filii, in nomine Spiritus Sancti, Amen.” “In the name of the Father, in the name of the Son, in the name of the Holy Ghost, Amen.”

And then he would leave it there on the fourth finger because the vein in that finger was supposed to travel straight to the heart.[2] Isn’t that wonderful?

A wedding ring is a druery, a keepsake, a love token. But what do you do with a keepsake if you don’t keep the relationship? What do you do with a wedding ring when the marriage is over?

Don’t tell my wife this, but she was my second girlfriend. When I was a senior in high school, I thought I was in love—I guess I was. I saved up my pennies from my lawn-mowing and snow-shoveling jobs and at Christmas went to the neighborhood jeweler and bought her a charming little gold pendant with a tiny diamond chip; it probably cost about $50. I still remember the lady at the jewelry store patiently helping a besotted 17-year-old kid pick out a Christmas present for his first girlfriend.

That relationship lasted about a year and then she broke my heart into a million pieces. But I wonder where that gold pendant is today? What do you do with a keepsake if you don’t keep the relationship?

You’ve probably got a few old drueries from past relationships hidden away on the top shelf of the closet or maybe proudly displayed on your bookshelf.

Paul Anthony Jones says we should take them out now and then and handle them and appreciate them, because they are emblems of “all the memories and lessons we take from previous relationships...Whether born out of good experiences or bad, those drueries make us who we are.”[3]

You see, we’re all mixed, mingled, mottled mosaics of past romances, some treasured and others resented. We’re all complicated collages of past friendships, some which ended amicably and others bitterly. We’re all multifarious medleys of filial, professional, collegial relationships, some cherished and others not so much.

Maybe your ex broke your heart when he walked out. Maybe your significant other wounded your soul when she abandoned you for another. Still those drueries made us who we are. We learned lessons; we cultivated new virtue or developed implacable resilience.

Maybe your ex made you laugh. ALL THE TIME. Until he didn’t. Maybe your alienated former friend told fascinating, suspenseful stories you’ll never forget and which even today make you the life of every dinner party. Maybe someone you no longer speak to introduced you to edgy music you never would have encountered without her. Maybe the boss you worked under for seven years was so impossible you had to develop coping mechanisms, and now you will never have trouble with other difficult people again. You’ve endured the worst, so nothing will ever bother you again.

Would it be possible in some cases—in SOME cases—would it be possible to see these past and broken relationships as unwanted and disguised but nevertheless valuable benedictions from the God who is shaping us to become the persons God needs us to be?

That Samaritan woman at the well was a quintuple divorcée, one better than Jane Seymour. She must bear the scars of that five-times broken heart. But that’s what made her who she was, and when Jesus meets her at that well, he doesn’t evict her from the village like her neighbors do; he just welcomes her into his lovely world of respect and grace and towering expectation. He alone seems to know that she is not dangerous; she is not difficult; she is not alien; she is just hurt; she is just rejected; she is just alone.

And you know what she does? She goes straight home and tells her neighbors “Come and see a man who told me everything I’ve ever done.” She shares the Good News. She becomes the first evangelist in the whole Christian story. Happy ending.

Go home and find an old druery—a pleasant one or a difficult one—and thank God for at least one of the many people God has placed in your life to turn you into the person you are today.

[1]Reader’s Digest, September 2004, p. 107.

[2]Peter Ackroyd, Shakespeare: The Biography (London: Chatto & Windus, 2005), p. 107.

[3]Paul Anthony Jones, The Cabinet of Calm: Soothing Words for Troubled Times (London: Elliott & Thompson, 2020), p. 65.