“Riding the Waves”
Last Sunday, I was invited to go kayaking. Admittedly, I didn’t have much time to be nervous about the venture but I was still aware that I didn’t feel particularly uneasy. I was decidedly confident I could kayak without incident. Now, that certainly wasn’t the case when I first started kayaking. I was a nervous wreck. I didn’t want to let on, but water scared me; floating on it, in silver, elongated toothpick with a hole in the middle, well that didn’t ease my concerns. I went anyway.
I still get an occasional reminder of how unnatural and foreign it is to put a fragile piece of glorified plastic in the water, sitting in it and having it actually stay afloat. For me, it goes against all common sense though I’m sure my kayak buddy could give me a scientific reason why all this works adding, from his perspective, how perfectly sane and natural this floating thing is. And it may be but now and then, I get a quick, undeniable reminder that I’m doing something, in my mind at least, well beyond the limits of human capability. On Sunday, rowing back to the launch site I experienced just such a moment. It came when Nat, my on-the-water companion announced he wasn’t sure we were heading in the right direction. As in times past, I had this wild plunge into shear panic. If he didn’t know, it was a good bet we were lost and would die in the middle of a lake. Of course, the shore was fully in view on all sides. I wondered what it would feel like to dive in among the algae and pond scum and swim thus saving myself from certain death, but I really didn’t want to try it. I took a quick assessment of what I was wearing…old shorts, a tee shirt and crocs and thought, “Well, there isn’t anything here that I need to worry about ruining”. But, it was about this time that I experienced the most irrational thought. I’d been here before – fearing for my life, on the water, in a kayak – and just as before, I had this wildly insane desire to step out of the kayak and walk it to nearest piece of land. What I did instead was to say to Nat, “Are you kidding me?” or maybe I didn’t actually say it, but I was thinking it.
The disciples had an equally unpleasant moment when a sudden storm threatened to swamp their boat and drown them. Giving into their fear they woke Jesus with the words, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” You’re sleeping and we’re fighting for your life and ours. In other words, “Are you kidding me?” And without a moment’s hesitation, Christ stills the wind, the water and the disciples. Then he turns to them with a challenge. “Where is your faith? Do you still doubt?”
Apparently, they did. The passage ends leaving us wondering if the stilled storm is enough to engender adequate faith in the disciples. Maybe it wasn’t. There would be numerous trials ahead, which would raise doubts and cause fears to resurface. They were, after all, as human as we are and certainly subject to the kind of behavior that rarely makes sense given the fact that we claim faith in God, yet act as though we don’t believe in God’s presence in our lives or God’s ability to help. We still doubt at times, still struggle to find a foothold on the sleek waters of life and still act out against those we think threaten us and threaten our survival. So it is a familiar scene and one in which we can easily find ourselves.
But there is a word of caution here. Feeling fear is very much a human reality. We can’t help ourselves. So that really isn’t the meaning in this passage. Christ is not angry with the disciples for their fear; he understands. There are real circumstances in our lives that engender fear in us and to some extent fear is a healthy, self-protective quality. It can save our lives. If we feel no fear, we may take undo risk and endanger ourselves and others. So feeling fear is not a sin. And Christ doesn’t lay that on the shoulders of the disciples. What he says instead is, “Do not be afraid” a far cry from “There is nothing to be afraid of.”
Presbyterian minister Michael Lindvall puts it this way:
“The hard truth is that fearsome things are very real: isolation, pain, illness, meaninglessness, rejection, losing one’s job, money problems, failure, illness, and death. As we grow in faith, we come to understand that even though some fearsome things are very real, they do not have the last word. They do not have ultimate power over us, because reigning over this world of fearsome things is a God who is mightier than they.”
So often, through the New Testament, these words “Do not be afraid” resurfaces. The angels speak these words to the terrified shepherds who see the light of a star and hear the voice of God. And then again, these same words are spoken at the empty tomb to the terrified women who came seeking the body of Christ and found him gone. “Do not be afraid.” Through it all, throughout our lives one message of hope encourages us to not be afraid; the truth that “God is with us”. The writer, Emily Bronte had a most difficult life. Her father was unbalanced and her brother, an alcoholic, but, in 1846 she wrote these beautiful words, which expressed her faith as it pushed past the fears and pain in her life.
“No coward soul is mine
no trembler in the world’s
I see Heaven’s glories
shine, and faith shines equal
Arming me from fear”.
My brief, but very real moment of panic when Nat said the words, “I’m not sure we’re going in the right direction” disappeared as I remembered, I was in the care of a seasoned Kayaker. One way or another, we would find our way out and arrive home safely. “Peace. Do not be afraid.” In John Bunyan’s iconic allegory of a man on a journey struggling to lead a life of faith, there is a scene that captures Mark’s gospel and my water venture perfectly. The hero, aptly named “Christian” is faced with his final challenge. He must cross a great expanse of water…“a fearsome river”. Commenting on the scene, Michael Lindvall describes what happens.
“[Christian] is desperately afraid. Together with friend Hopeful, they wade into the waters with trepidation. Bunyan has Christian cry out, “I sink in deep Waters; the Billows go over my head, all His waves go over me.” Hopeful replies with what may be among the most grace-filled words in all of literature; “Be of good cheer, my Brother, I feel the bottom, and it is good…”
And so it is. God is our rock and our redeemer, the foundation under our feet, the canopy above our heads, Lord of our lives. With certainty, we can hear the words “Peace, Do not be afraid” and believe that God is with us. Amen.