- Published: 31 March 2020
In seeking for Spirit wisdom for our faith journey in this extraordinary time of Covid19, the Scripture story that came to mind for me is the symbolic and metaphoric story about the crossing of the sea of Galilee. The wisdom is in the structure of the story and the sea of Galilee is often understood to be a womb for the birth of the Spirit life inspired in our gospel stories.
I refer to the second crossing story in Mark 6, not the first one in Mark 4, simply because in telling a second story we link with our Lenten theme about memorable, life-changing, and spirit grounding encounter with the Holy. While I readily admit that Covid19 and what we are all facing right now is pretty unique and is not something I have faced before, I recognize that most of us have experienced difficult times before, and certainly our ancestors have. We not only have our own stories, but there are ancestral stories before us that guide us, those stories where life was turned on its head. where challenging, unchosen and difficult hard experiences have been thrust upon us.
The disciples find themselves facing a difficult sea crossing for a second time. The first time, the holy in Jesus had fallen asleep in the boat, but this time, the holy in Jesus was doing some “physical distancing”. Jesus instructs the disciple to get into a boat while Jesus goes off to pray. Jesus had a regular spirit practice of grounding himself in the holy.
While Jesus is praying, the disciples are encountering another storm, the wind is against them, and I mean really against them. They were using a boat to cross the sea as a means to speed things up, it was quicker than walking around, but this crossing turned out to be much longer than they thought so that even by the forth watch of the night, or three or four in the morning, they were still rowing and not getting to where they wanted to be.
All of us are beginning to realize that this physical distancing is going to take a lot longer than we initially thought. COVID-19 is a strong wind. We are in the middle of the lake, no way out, except through some tough rowing. Let’s not pretend that this isn’t hard.
Equally, it is harder for some than others, harder for those who are live with compromised immune systems, harder for those who are losing work, harder for those who carry the weight of parenting, harder for those separated from aging family members, harder for the poor.
While we are all in the same boat, not all of us have the same capacity to row and it is a time of compassion as each does and shares according to their capacity so that we are working together against the winds of COVID-19.
This story is also honest by naming the fearfulness the disciples felt. Facing strong winds is a fearful experience. There is nothing wrong with feeling fear, it is a natural feeling in life.
Fear surfaces necessary caution and judicious action. This is why Pema Chodron in her book When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, begins by talking about "intimacy with fear". Fear is natural, not to be avoided, but as the structure of the story demonstrates, fear is not the end point because being in a state of fearfulness is debilitating, it paralyses.
In the structure of this symbolic and metaphoric story, the drama heightens when the holy in Jesus comes walking on the water.
Now, having had physical distancing drained into their heads, the disciples were not quite ready for this “spirit nearing” and they freaked out. Thinking the worst, they conspired up a ghost and shouted out in terror, only to have the sacred voice immediately echo back, saying “courage, fear not”. It was not a ghost, it was the holy in Jesus. It is amazing what facts can do to conspiratorial fears.
As I have often mentioned, at least 365 times in the Biblical witness is there the admonition to “fear not”, this being one of them. The admonition is never to avoid fear, but to move beyond a debilitating state of fearfulness. This is the place of spiritual growth and it is easier said than done. It is a growth point for all of us in these fearful times of COVID-19.
In the closing words of this symbolic and metaphoric story, the disciples are described as being silenced, not understanding because their minds were still closed. the narrators in the gospel stories often utilize the disciples as a foil for the holy in Jesus. This literary tool enables the read to see more clearly the choice before them, a choice to live in debilitating fear or the choice to find a way that moves through fear to faith.
In the story, Jesus gets into the boat the wind becomes still. There is a pause. While the story has an appearance of the holy in Jesus magically fixing everything, this understanding denigrates the depth meaning of the story and the Spirit life of the gospels. This narrative, written many years after the life of Jesus, are written to a people considerable challenge in life, who knew hard times, times that were not magically wished away. The silenced winds are a symbolic stillpoint, a pause to calm the fear and connect with faith, faith most especially at the hardest points in life.
I know for me, it is often at the hardest points in life that my most memorable and life-changing encounters with the holy have happened.
That possibility happens in the silence, in the pause. the invitation is to open the spirit and mind to the God-way in the midst of the hard. In the boat we find ourselves in, let us welcome the wisdom from this story which reminds us of "spirit nearing" in this difficult time of physical distancing.
May we seek holy still points, as we support and strengthen one another in rowing in the reality of the hard winds that are blowing.