2018-6-24 “In the Face of a Storm”

“In the Face of a Storm”

A meditation based on Mark 4:35-41

June 24, 2018

Community Congregational Church of Chula Vista

Dr. Sharon R. Graff

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                   We’ve just heard one of the great storm stories of the Bible, yet to look at the cover of the bulletin today, one wouldn’t even imagine a storm anywhere in sight.  When all is calm—like in this picture—and the waters are clear enough to see the bottom, then is the precious time we can reflect on storms.  Not when it’s raging.  Not when we’re preparing for its blast.  Not until we recover from its power.  But now, when things are calm, Jesus invites us to think about storms and how they affect us, even what they teach us.  Those are the waters the scripture invites us to enter today…so put on your lifejackets…we’re going for a boat ride! 

                   One of the dictionaries I consulted defines “storm” as

  • a violent disturbance of the atmosphere
  • a tumultuous reaction
  • a violent or noisy outburst
  • move angrily or forcefully (e.g. “to storm in…”)
  • uses words like “intense” “force” “uproar” “controversy” “assault”

Even more than religion or politics, these storms in our lives are topics of conversation we were early on taught to avoid in polite company.  Few of us wear these storms on our sleeves, and fewer still are willing to dive into their depths, even after the stormy waters clear.  Most of us seek peace, quick and speedy peace, when those storms have passed.  And we tend to think that peace includes the instruction to never speak of that storm again. 

                   Yet, Jesus teaches differently.  Jesus teaches the healing power of community.  Look at that bulletin picture again…you’re not just in the boat by yourself.  You are in the boat with others.  Together, it reminds us.  Floating on water that will hold all of you up.  Warmed by sun and cooled by clouds.  On this day, brothers and sisters, you are safe within the safety of community living, Jesus-style.  I think that’s the primary reason that Jesus reacts as he does when the storm is stilled.  You remember the sequence of events:

  • prior to today’s passage, earlier that same day, Jesus taught his heart out with parable after parable
  • crowds grow so large that he and the disciples get into a boat at the seaside, row out a bit to give some more shore space to the crowds
  • by nightfall, Jesus is tired, and suggests to the disciples they head over to the other side of the bay where it might be quieter
  • and before the boat leaves shore, Jesus falls asleep, exhausted
  • as it common on the Sea of Galilee, a storm arises; these trained sailors navigate the best they can; the sea tosses their boat to the point they are afraid for their lives
  • they awaken Jesus and he calms the storm with a three short words, “Peace, be still!”
  • Then he gets to teaching again, with two powerful questions, “Why are you afraid?” “Have you still no faith?”
  • The story ends, as we might expect, with the disciples in awe and distracted by Jesus’ power over wind and waves

                   That story fits every definition of “storm” you already heard today!  It was violent, disturbing, tumultuous, noisy.  The disciples reacted with angry outburst—“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”  They are angry and forceful with Jesus, and the whole scene is filled with intensity, controversy, assault.  So much so, that the disciples do not even seem to hear those two powerful questions Jesus poses: Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?  I don’t think Jesus asks those questions to shut them up, to guilt them into obedient silence.  Nor does he pose them to elevate himself or his faith above their own fear.  That’s not Jesus, at least not with his closest disciples.  Maybe with a group of hypocritical Pharisees or short-sighted political leaders…then he uses irony or even sarcasm to make a point.  But not with his beloved community.  With them, Jesus poses those questions for their own good.  For their own learning.  For their own growth.  Why are you afraid?  What a question, after the storm has stilled…  Not “why were you afraid” but why do you still fear?  The storm is passed.  There is no need to carry the fear from it.

                   There’s a wonderful little zen koan that comes from writer Anthony DeMello, who was himself a Jesuit priest and psychotherapist from India.  He tells the story of two priests—forbidden to touch or interact with women.  The priests are walking along a pathway and come to a stream they must cross.  Also at the shore is a woman who is afraid to cross the water alone.  Without hesitation, the elder priest picks her up, carries her across, carefully sets her on the opposite shore, and she goes on her way.  The two priests walk off in the opposite direction.  Hours later, the younger priest, still scandalized by his elder, asks, “Father, we are forbidden to touch a woman.  Why did you do what you did?” to which the elder replies, “Oh, my son, I put her down on the shore…why are you still carrying her?”

                   Why are you afraid? Jesus asks them after the storm has stilled.  Their fear no longer serves them.  Their fear keeps them from acting when things are calm.  Their fear was helpful in the storm, to be sure, in that it jolted them into action that saved their lives.  But now the water is calm.  The storm is passed.  Fear no longer serves.  This Jesus teaches by keeping the fear isolated and contained within the event of the storm.  Spiritual teachers teach us that when fear from past events bleeds over into the present, what it creates is anxiety.  And anxiety is a roadblock to our creative thinking.  Anxiety also gets in the way of Spirit’s good work.  In this storm story today, Jesus is trying to teach us that fear in the storm makes sense, while fear clung to beyond the storm is just sad and unnecessary.

                   With Jesus’ second powerful question—Have you no faith?—we might be inclined to hear it as an accusation.  Again, that’s not who Jesus usually is with his disciples, certainly not when they are still recovering from the intensity of stormy waters.  Rather, we can read into this second question of faith, a great depth of compassion, maybe even tinged with a bit of sadness or perhaps with a quiet reminder that they still have so much to learn and he has much to teach them.  Have you no faith?  It’s like that question of the elder priest to the younger, why are you still carrying her?  Jesus’ question of their faith is a gentle mirror held up for them to see their actions in light of the presence of God with them.  And in seeing, truly seeing, honestly, eyes-open seeing, then they grow.  Those moments are familiar to each of us, for as the storms subside, then the penetrating seeing comes into focus, and the deeper growth can occur.

                   The Irish have a name for this process of growth, and with all the water in their land, it is no surprise that the name echoes a lake.  I stumbled across it years ago, while studying Irish Celtic Spirituality.  It is called, dearcadh siochain (dee-ARR-could SHEE-uh-hawn).  It is an ancient practice that was incorporated as a spiritual practice by early Irish Christians as well.

The old Irish word dearcadh literally means “vision.”  In some usages, it refers to looking; and it is related to modern Irish words meaning to look; to be far-seeing; considerate; it refers to one’s outlook or opinion, one’s vision or foresight.  Interestingly, the word dearcadh is also related to the word for acorn.  My take on that is that, in the ancient Irish language,    trees played a central part.  In fact, the original Irish alphabet is based on different types of trees. 

The oak tree was considered the most sacred, and oak groves were among the earliest outdoor sanctuaries in Ireland.  Perhaps the word for acorn has derived from some early vision rituals. 

Who knows?  As I heard once from an archeologist at Stonehenge, without written records, any of our opinions are as good as the next!  So dearcadh has to do with vision or seeing. 

                   The second word, siochain (SHEE-uh-hawn) means quiet or peace.  Thus, together, the loose translation of dearcadh siochain is “peaceful vision, or view from quiet.”  Imagine the surface of a lake on a windy day, when one’s vision of the depths is obscured by all the silt, sand, and muck stirred up by the wind.  When the wind is stilled, one can see much more clearly.  So in the way of dearcadh siochain, the wind is our thoughts, which must be stilled in order to take notice of what is under the surface.  In the case of today’s Bible story, the wind was the fears, which had to be stilled in order to grow.

                   In the practice of dearcadh siochain, one sits quietly and comfortably; noticing first the breath, and stilling it to a peaceful rhythm.  When thoughts appear, as they will, one seeks to simply notice them as if they were passing clouds in the sky.  Noticeable, interesting even, but distant and disconnected from any desire any necessary or immediate action.  As one practices this discipline, the thoughts recede to make way for a clearer vision of whatever it is that needs to be more clearly viewed.  Perhaps it is a concern for a loved one’s health.  Perhaps a long-ago grief that wants to be healed.  Perhaps a new job assignment or a new relationship or a new challenge recently appearing.  Whatever it is that you want to see more clearly, the practice of meditation, Irish style—or ancient Jesus style—this practice of intentional silence and meditation can help you in quieting the racing thoughts, in calming the waters on your own internally-windy lake, so that the view comes more clearly into focus.

                   In her book, God’s Joyful Surprise, author Sue Monk Kidd has written,

“One of the misconceptions about journeying to a deeper intimacy with God is that we don’t need other people.  We may want to get wrapped up in the coziness of ‘me and God.’  But of course this is a perverted spirituality and doomed from the outset.  One of the worst illusions…would be to try to find God by barricading yourself inside your own soul.  As we wake to God’s love and presence in our lives, we actually become more capable of loving others.  It’s as if our hearts are somehow being enlarged.  It means that as we open ourselves to God’s love, journeying deeper into intimacy, we become more able to love ourselves.  And when we love ourselves, we are finally able (and sometimes for the first time in our lives) to love others—not with a what’s-in-it-for-me love, but with the strong, authentic, wear and tear love Christ showed us.”

Jesus teaches a way of life that acknowledges fear in stormy situations, that moves beyond fear when the storm is over, that looks with penetrating intensity and penetrating compassion in the quiet after the storm, and that accepts and welcomes growth!

                   You, as a congregation, are living through the benefits of this very journey.  These past couple of years, you have willingly reviewed some of the stormy times in your own past.  And, praise God, you’re still breathing!  From those reviews, you’ve seen some new insights, you’ve garnered some new meanings, you’ve reframed some of that difficult stormy history, and you’re stronger for it.  Now I urge you to leave the fear behind at the shore.  It no longer serves you.  It may be holding you back.  God is with you, this you know.  Spirit has your back, this you have seen over and over again.  Jesus walks with you and you with him—on the water, into the boat, and over to the other shore.  So, look deeply into the calm waters, and you will see all you need to see.


Amen and Blessed Be