Into the Storm
June 21, 2015
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today’s gospel is one of those terrific stories in the New Testament that tell an awful lot in just a few sentences. It’s full of great, gritty detail, and that’s why I love it so much.
And this story has lent itself to lots of different artistic renderings, too, because of all its detail and its implications. Artist after artist has entered into the story and made it his or her own. One of the most famous renderings is by the Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn. Rembrandt painted this around the year 1633, which was the earlier part of his career.
We’ve reproduced it in full view and in close-up of the men on the boat. Sorry about the crummy quality of the reproduction. Go home afterward and go to Google Images, and you can find it in color and in clarity. It was in the Gardner Museum in Boston but was stolen in 1990. Police are hopeful we’ll have it back soon. We’ll see.
Rembrandt’s painting shows his majestic use of dark and light. We see the wave hitting the boat square on. We see the angle of the mast, which tells us of the power of the sea and the wind during that storm. In the close up we notice the disciples trying to wake up Jesus, and he does look a little groggy there, doesn’t he? But he looks calm, as well. And that, of course, is very significant. If you look really closely you’ll see in the bottom center one disciple leaning over the boat. You can imagine what that upheaval is doing to his dinner—if you get my drift.
And you see one of them holding onto a rope that comes down from the mast, and looking out at us. That supposedly is a rendering of the artist himself, as he looked in his younger years. It’s a wonderful touch, how he put himself in the picture.
Our own Ginger Jespersen was asked to paint her interpretation of this painting this past year for a college level painting class. Here’s her version—and you can see it up close at coffee hour and speak with the artist, too.
Now, because this story has so many wonderful details, we’ll use them as we pray with it imaginatively. Praying with Scripture is a time-honored way of encountering the Word in its fullness and its particularity.
We’re going to enter the story in the style made popular by Ignatius of Loyola. This is the former soldier who underwent a stunning conversion at midlife and went on to found the Jesuit order, known today for its intellectualism and ecumenism. Ignatius’ legacy has greatly influenced the course of Christianity down through the centuries.
Ignatian prayer doesn’t actually come from book-learning, though. It comes from the conviction that God gave us imaginations that we might use to enter into the stories of Scripture. God gave us senses to use so that we might fire up our imaginations. So that’s what we’re going to do now: enter into the story with our imaginations, and our senses, individually.
COME DOWN FROM PULPIT AND ENTER THE NAVE
First, we invite the Holy Spirit to be present among us in a very strong way. To fly through and around this sanctuary and to guide our hearts and imaginations individually / as we enter into the scene. (So do that now—pray for the Spirit.)
Now imagine that you’re in Galilee, in the little town of Capernaum, where the light is bright, the vegetation grassy with a few olive and sycamore trees here and there, and the lake—what we call the Sea of Galilee—spread out before you. Can you see the reeds that are close to shore? Can you see the open water beyond, and can you just barely make out the shoreline on the other side? Can you smell the slight fishy smell that comes up from where the fishing boats are moored for the night?
Unlike the dry air in much of the rest of Israel, the air here is a bit humid, a welcome change from the rest of Galilee. Can you feel that welcome humidity on your skin and in your lungs?
Now, imagine how tired you feel, as you’ve had a very long day with Jesus as he talked with the people and told parable after parable about the Kingdom of God. Imagine you’ve sat down with the Teacher over a meal of fried fish and bread. How was the fish? Was it made the way you like it? Does it make your mouth water just to think of it?
Now it’s after the dinner hour and the sun is lower in the sky, glinting on the water of the lake, and the sky is going over to a deeper blue as the sun sets. Can you see the first star yet? Can you hear the little waves lapping up on the lakeshore?
You rest for a while with Jesus and the other disciples, under a big olive tree that’s coming into fruit. What is he wearing now? How does his voice sound? Is he tired from such a long day? Are you tired as well? And then, as the sun is going down, you hear him invite all of you to cross over to the other side of the lake.
And so you and the other disciples go and get some boats ready for the crossing. You get the cushions out, you invite the others onto your boats, and you untie the ropes and shove off.
But do you see the clouds coming in from the West now? Do you feel an increase in the humidity of the air as the clouds thicken? Is it getting a little breezy and a little cooler? Are you worried about being caught out on the lake in the middle of an approaching storm?
Jesus doesn’t seem too concerned, you think. I guess it will be all right.
But it doesn’t feel all right as the minutes go on, as the clouds get darker, and as the wind picks up. Do you see it filling the sails on the boats? Do you feel the wind on your face? What are your companions saying? Are people getting worried about being caught up in one of the deadly storms that turn up the sea in these parts?
So now the storm’s fierceness is increasing and you all are doing whatever you can to keep these boats afloat—trying to lower sails, trying to steer into the wind. Poor Thomas over there is losing his supper. Peter and Andrew, the true fishermen in the bunch, are shouting orders over the noise of the gale. And you are paralyzed by fear. You are hanging onto the rope that comes down from the sail and you are looking out and wondering what it will feel like to drown. Do you see the lightning strike and do you hear that huge, loud thunderclap?
Just now a huge wave comes crashing over the bow and threatens to take your boat down to the bottom of the sea. Can you feel your clothes get soaked, and can you feel the water running down and into your eyes and mouth? Do you taste the lake’s fishy-tasting water?
Meanwhile you catch sight of Jesus over there, sleeping like a baby over this racket and this fearful situation, despite being drenched himself by the waves. How can he be so oblivious to what’s going on? Is he really that exhausted? John, his close companion, crawls over to him and shouts in his ear to wake up—“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing? And we all shout to him to wake up and to DO something.
And so he does rouse from his sleep of exhaustion, and wonder of wonders he turns to the sea and speaks to it, telling the sea, and the weather, to be still, to be calm.
And miraculously you see it happen right before your very eyes. The waves are reduced to practically nothing—to the calm that is usually over this lake. The wind stops howling. The clouds begin to clear off and you can see the stars start to shine through. And you even begin to feel your clothes start to dry.
And what do you feel now, deep in your heart? Are you astonished at this man’s power? Are you wondering who he is, and is the inescapable conclusion crashing over you like a wave you cannot stop? Are you more afraid now than you were during the storm?
This must be God brought to earth. Only God has this power.
And you are filled with awe and wonder. And you are afraid of being so close to this Presence.
Now, for us today, we may be able to relate to a storm on the sea if we’ve sailed or cruised. But even if not that kind of storm we can relate to other upheavals in our lives, other really difficult passages we’ve had to make. Think about some time when you felt like your whole world was turned upside down, and you couldn’t imagine seeing yourself through it.
And remember how God’s presence—the Spirit of Jesus—was there to comfort and guide you.
Slowly, carefully, let faith grow larger than fear.