Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Peace! Be still!

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great gale arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’

- Mark 4:35-41

In yesterday's passage, we read several of Jesus' parables regarding the description of the kingdom, and what it is like to have faith. These word-pictures vividly describe the action of faith and its growth, and tell us about its unfolding and revelation for us.

But faith isn't just about the wondrous growth, and our moments of joy. Faith, I find, also involves confronting one's own fears. I don't think I can make this journey of faith without a kind of self-confrontation that goes on all the time. As a practitioner of contemplative prayer, I find that I am constantly coming up against my own experiences, my own past and its residue of response in me. That means I encounter a lot of fears. Faith is constantly asking me to go forward, to make decisions that are different from in the past. This is, in my opinion, the way repentance works. It needn't be a terrible sin one repents from in the sense that a wiser decision can be made to change one's way of thinking as we grow. Maybe there is a better way. If, through prayer, you find yourself urged to reconsider the ways you've always thought about things, or perhaps traumatic and harsh past experiences that still have an emotional residue within you, this too can be the action of the Holy Spirit creating repentance, or metanoia, "change of mind."

The action of the Spirit is to always heal, to ask us to grow and to progress. We know, again, from Jesus' parables yesterday, that this kingdom is like a lamp set on a lampstand, that sheds its light everywhere. So, in the prayer process through time, that lamp will shine its light in all of our dark corners and ask us about changing something we may have chosen long ago. This is a form of healing. As we grow like the mustard seed in our faith, that "large shrub" must include gifts of the Spirit that augment our characters. We see in the gospels, for example, this transformation in St. Peter. But that naturally means that we confront our fears of changing, of embarking on the new place that faith leads us. And often, the journey of faith asks us to confront real fears of loss and departure from the familiar. The apostles and early believers left family, home, everything for this faith. They faced martyrdom and persecution.

So, after Jesus has told us wonderful parables about faith and the kingdom in yesterday's daily reading, today we find his apostles confronting a storm. We could think of this storm as a kind of parallel to what they will eventually encounter as apostles in their difficulties in establishing the church. But we remember that we have something and someone with us who helps us on this journey. And that is the key to this gospel passage. Jesus commands the storm to Be still! In the original Greek, the word used here is the same word with which Jesus commanded the demon to be quiet in Mark 1:25.

Just as our faith sets us out on the journey, it also accompanies us through the difficulties of that journey. I believe this sort of confrontation is all part of the effects of the transformational reality of that kingdom, its power and its reality. We don't live in a world where life is always charmed; we need a faith that gets us through its difficulties, just as our example in Jesus has taught us.

Have you still no faith? We are being given yet another example here, in addition to yesterday's parables, of what it is to have faith, how faith works and what it does. We encounter difficulties on this road, and it is faith itself that must get us through. We call on the One in whom we have that faith when we need help to keep it strong on this journey.