May 4 2006
Mark 4:35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, "Let us go across to the other side." 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"
In this story they are in the dark- evening has come, and out on the lake over the deep water, the place where evil things lurk. Deep water is the place of mysterious and dangerous forces. It is, of course a symbol for the dark, deep, dangerous places of life. External places and times in our lives are symbolised by the lake, but so also are the storms and fearsome things of our deep inner selves.
I am fascinated by the language of the story.
...he said to them, "Let us go...
...leaving the crowd behind...
...they took him with them in the boat...
...just as he was...
...Other boats were with him...
We don't write like this. The structure is jumbled. It is coded language:
Jesus calls them.
They leave the crowd (it does say he does, "they" is the disciples)- they are alone.
But they take him with them (he is not taking them, even though he suggests the journey)
There were other boats with him- and it is boats not people there with him, not them.
Jesus calls us out from what we are. All calling is in one sense a solitary calling. But there is a sense in which he goes with us- we take him with us. There are other travellers.... but they are "boats in the night"..... on their own particular journey.
A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?"
Well, maybe He was just exhausted? No! It's the extended symbol. When trouble strikes in a great windstorm, Jesus so often seems to be asleep and not helping. He seems not even to notice! We are left to save ourselves, and start to sink.
But when we cry out to him he calms the storm- even when we can only manage to call in desperate unbelief! In Mark, those who call Jesus "Rabbi" or "Teacher" are those who do not believe! (or at best, have not yet seen who he is.)
There is a "dead calm ." All the power of the turmoil is taken away.
I'm scared of water and what might be on the bottom. I've been like that ever since I was a little kid who could just float and kick along in the water. Putting my feet down so I could take a breath, I nearly stood on a big skate (stingray.) I kept kicking in a surge of fear until it was "breathe or sink!" Almost 50 years on, I still can't walk comfortably in beach water.
So when my doctor said "If you want your knees to keep walking, stop running," swimming was a sort of defiance, as well as exercise. The rhythm of two or three kilometres along the beach each day, with the occasional shock of swimming into a patch of weed, and the discipline of walking past the Kitty Macully memorial was one of the most healing periods of my life.
I arrived one day, thirsting for the embrace of water, to find the unnoticed breeze of my suburban street was a great windstorm at the beach. The waves were high - two and three metres. I stood regretful, watching a few crazy, immortal school kids being tossed around on body boards. In answer to shame, or some deep, half-heard call to cross to the other side, I struggled in through the first few yards of crashing mud. And was dragged and tossed in a completely present world of exhilaration- of Glory, Excitement, and of all things, Safety!
Have you been in a park in the centre of the city, and experienced one of those little oases of sound, where the traffic's roar fades into the background? For a few moments, or even longer you're a world away in a little place of peace, even though the cars are only yards distant. It was like that! Eerily quiet, warm, rising gently with the swell, and then dropping quickly away behind each wave-wall, shielded from all the sound of the surf and the city. My God, how I wish I could go back there!
I think Mark was trying to tell his people, and re-mind them of the power of the resurrected Christ in the face of life's storms. Christ rebukes the wind. The word grace refers to that gift of God where in the greatest of crises, we can stumble into, or are directed into- somehow we are there- a dead calm. Our whole reality is reframed and transformed so that even though nothing may change, everything is changed!
Kitty Macully: The memorial fountain was erected in 1926 by the women of Brighton in memory of Kathleen Duncan Whyte, nee Macully. 'Kitty' taught swimming at Brighton for many years. In 1919, Kitty saved a person from drowning and was awarded a Royal Lifesaving Society Grand Diploma. She was killed in a shark attack while swimming in 1926.
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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