Monday, June 22, 2015

Are We in the Eye of the Storm? Or, Jesus Is Sleeping in the Boat Again

This is the stained glass behind the altar at Sacred Heart
Catholic Church
 in Wahkon, MN, where I will sometimes
attend Mass when my wife and I are visiting her parents.

I couldn't help but think of these panels as I listened to this
week's gospel story from Mark.
The Gospel reading for this past Sunday was the story of Jesus calming the storm. Or, if you prefer, it's the story where Jesus is asleep in the back of the boat while his disciples tried to keep the boat afloat. Either way, when Jesus wakes up, he tells the storm "Peace! Be still!" and the sea becomes calm.

He then does that thing where he asks the disciples why they were afraid and he asks whether they have no faith. I can just see that image, where Jesus is kinda shaking his head in a very exasperated sort of way (yes, I imagine that Jesus grew impatient with his disciples sometimes).

While I was growing up, more often than not, this story was taught with a cute little moral at the end like this: "And that, children, is why you should never be a afraid of a storm in your life; whether it's something at school or a misunderstanding between friends or even a real storm. Never be afraid because Jesus is with us always." BLEH.

However, this weekend, I was listening to a priest who pointed out that very often, we feel like we're in the middle of the storm. He paused and pointed out that almost every commentary on this Gospel story says that the boat the disciples are traveling in is an image representing the Church. This priest then pointed out that sometimes we, as a Church, might find ourselves in moment of calm. It's like suddenly, all the criticism and controversy around us in the popular media subsides for just little bit, but it's not the case that we're out of the storm. It's that we're in the eye of the storm.

What that means is that this story of Jesus is not important because we can look back on the storms in our life, but it is important when we recognize we are right in the middle of a storm.

Now, I think it's important to take note here to see that being in the eye of the storm is not a negative thing. The priest himself pointed out that the eye of the storm can give momentary respite, a little rejuvenation and the sunshine to remind you of divine providence. In terms of the story, Jesus is with us through the storm, whether or not he's asleep in the boat.

Now, there are two very practical ways that I want to apply this idea of being in the eye of the storm. The first is for those of you, dear readers, who are of the Episcopal persuasion and know that the 78th General Convention will be beginning on Thursday. In amongst all this chatter about the Church dying or the Church being buoyed up; no matter what you think about the initiatives being discussed at the General Convention, I think it is important to remember this story from Mark.

I think it's really timely that the lectionary provided it to us now, as we're practically on the eve of the Convention. There are so many narratives out there, trying to influence the future of the Church. Some of them do seem more bleak than other; similarly, some of them are a little too naive for my taste. But whichever end of the spectrum these narrators fall on, I still want to hold up this story, since I don't see many others doing it. We, as a Church, have had hard times already, plenty of hard times. There is plenty more hard work ahead. But as our ecclesial boat tries to navigate these waters of social responsibility, popular opinion, and our own inherited institutional torpor, Jesus will remain with us. There's nothing we can do to change that piece.

The second practical way that I can apply this story is for my own context. There is a new development in my life, dear readers, that I have not admitted online yet. I am no longer a postulant to the diaconate in the Episcopal Church in Minnesota. I feel that this is a good thing for me, but nonetheless, my emotions are stormy. There is still plenty of processing and grieving that I need to go through.

So the story of Jesus calming the storm is a reality in my own life. I can see the obstacles that I have encountered over the past year, not just in formation but in my professional life, too. And I know that there is plenty of emotional baggage that this change has left me holding.

In addition to theologians seeing the boat in the story from Mark's gospel as the Church, mythologists agree that crossing over a body of water symbolizes change of one sort or another. So as I look at the story in my own life, I am a disciple on the boat. I have left what I knew behind me on the shore and I thought that I knew exactly where this boat would land and let me off. But now that the storm has come up, I feel like I'm all thrown off course. Yes, I am in the eye of the storm now and there is some calm and clarity, but I still do not know where storm will carry me and my pathetic little boat. All the while, Jesus is with me. In the stern of the boat, asleep on some cushions (how can he keep sleeping?!? Aren't those cushions wet by now?)

With that, dear readers, I think I need to end this post. I have said before that this blog is my place to reflect and record my spiritual story and that I will do my best to tell stories of resurrection. I know that I have not quite fulfilled that promise yet with these events in my life. But I am a work in progress, so check back and we'll see where we are next time. Just let me leave you with the same song that my wife has been offering me lately as encouragement.

~ ~ ~

What kind of storms are raging in your life? Do you feel that you've found the eye of any of these storms? If you feel comfortable sharing in the comments below, please do! If you would rather contact me directly, please feel free to do so by email, or on Twitter or Facebook.

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