Jesus meets us in the chaos and calls us to the calm.
I recently watched a troubling and eye-opening documentary titled Blackfish. It tells the heartbreaking story of the troubling effects captivity can have on the relationship between orcas and humans. In viewing the film, it was an orca named Kasatka who ended up captivating me. In one scene, we witness the black and white behemoth taking hold of her trainer’s foot and repeatedly dragging him to the bottom of the tank. She brings him back to the surface just long enough for him to gulp in another mouthful of precious air before diving again, trainer in tow. This goes on for nearly ten minutes before the trainer was able to swim to safety. This gruesome reality on my screen became a much-too-accurate metaphor for my feelings through a series of major life events that I have encountered recently.
The disciples in today’s Gospel may have been able to identify with this scene too. They are soaked through to the bone, waves threatening to break their boat apart, in a dangerous section of the sea believed by first century fishermen to house sea monsters. Just for added effect, it also happens to be the darkest hour of night. Then, as their fear reaches its apex, a figure is seen walking on the water toward them. The shriek leaps from their throats, “It is a ghost!” I can think of few scenes as chaotic as this one.
In the last two years I have found myself in periods of chaos such as this. At its worst point I was so swept up in the maelstrom that my back literally gave out and I experienced numbing and persistent pain. We all experience chaos in our lives, sometimes multiple times in a single day! The perpetual cloud of depression, the tsunami of pain and suffering accompanied by a chronic illness, the throws of our own addiction or that of a loved one, or the tidal wave of violence that crashes down upon the shores of far too many. Consider when you have felt like you were being tossed about…like everything (and perhaps everyone) was against you…
In these times, it is customary for us to cling to the sides of our rickety boats--those coping mechanisms or fears that trick us with their false sense of security. It might be that extra cocktail or glass of wine each night, the food that we don’t need or want to eat but do, the third hour of television we choose to watch instead of interacting with a loved one face-to-face, or the online shopping we use to escape from enjoying what wealready have.
A dear friend once described this passage as being a perfect metaphor for the drugaddiction he endured (less than gracefully) in his early twenties. The drugs were his boat. It felt safer to smoke or snort than face life sober. He came to discover that the drugs simply didn’t demand anything of him. The sick irony in this for all of us is that just when we think our “boats” are bringing calm, we come to see that they only intensify the storms. It is in these times that we best follow in St. Peter’s watery footprints outside the boat and, if necessary, cry out, “Lord, save me!”
The grace that perpetually makes itself real in our lives is this: Jesus is always appearing to us in the chaos and offering calm, whether we see him there ornot. Sometimes our nose is buried in the bottom of the boat amidst broken oars and tattered nets and we choose not to lift our eyes to meet his. If we are too immobilized by fear or hopelessness to step away from that which paralyzes us, then we can always invite Jesus in to join us.
Truly by the grace of God, I have managed to discover Christ’s calming presence more recently amidst my storms with the help of an amazing spiritual director, the Ignatian Examen, my wife’s relentless love, friendships that carry a nice patina and those recently budding, and daily stretching. When this is working well, I am reminded of a poem by the Sufi mystic Hafiz: “God and I have become like two giant fat people living in a tiny boat. We keep bumping into each other and laughing.”
I pray that you too are spotting Jesus in your storms. I pray that even in your darkest hour you feel Jesus bumping into you. And over the gale-force winds, shrieks of terror and crashing waves, I pray we can always hear these words piercing through it all:
“Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
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