I’m not sure if you have ever been seasick? I will never forget the time I was so seasick that I would have welcomed death. The journey was in a fishing boat late one night between Chatham and Pitt Islands. I didn’t realise that the crossing would take longer at night, and also that the absence of not only the sun but also the moon would mean that the horizon was not visible…
The journey was arranged at short notice for the funeral of Ken who had lived all of his life at North Head (Kahuitara) on Pitt Island, (then) the first inhabited part of the world to see the sun. This was where international TV news-crews gathered at the turn of the millenium to broadcast the first sunrise of the millenium as Bishop John Cunneen celebrated Mass. Ken (and Eva whom I had buried a few months earlier) farmed the North Head. Anyway, back to my story.
Earlier in the evening I had flown from Christchurch to Chatham, Tim had picked me up in his ute at the airport and driven me to the fishing port of Owenga where just before 10pm I boarded Glen’s fishing boat along with a couple of others and the food and drink supplies for the funeral. The first minutes were fine until we got into the strait, and if it wasn’t for the funeral supply of Glenfiddich on board I am not sure I would have made it.
As I pondered today’s gospel I felt a real empathy with the disciples of Jesus who were being “tossed about by the waves.” They were terrified and when they saw Jesus walking towards them across the waves they did not recognise him. Thinking he was a ghost, their fear increased even more until he spoke: “Courage, it is I, do not be afraid.” Still, the disciples were not comforted. Perhaps Peter spoke for the team when he questioned: “Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you across the water.” Jesus replied to him with one powerful invitation: “come!”
It is reasonable to assume that Peter was looking directly at Jesus at this point. Certainly the art across the centuries that has portrayed Peter standing on the waves with arms outstretched towards Jesus who is reaching lovingly towards Peter. The eyes of each are fixed on the other, and all is going well.
Chances are that most of us will keep away from night journeys across turbulent straits in little boats. And we will never literally step out of a boat to walk towards Jesus across the water. But it is the metaphor here that carries the message. Can you relate to any of the following:
- my child is unwell and I don’t know what to do.
- I fear I will lose my job and if that happens I won’t be able to pay the mortgage.
- The health of the one I love is uncertain.
- I am desperately lonely and I don’t know if I can continue.
- My child’s marrage has fallen apart and now I never see my grandchildren.
- i used to take life lightly but now everything gets me down, I am depressed.
- I have made a commitment and I am not sure it is the right one
- My family and friends love me, but if they really knew…
…the list is endless. In each of these situations, and in many others that we have experienced and are experiencing, we could say that we are sinking in stormy seas and in need of a miracle of rescue, or (to put it another way) we need to be saved. We are in need of an experience of salvation.
The key here is found in a simple question: What, or who are you looking at? The scriptures are clear: when we fix our gaze on Jesus, all is well. This does not mean that we are free from the problems that life throws at us. Of course we still experience tough times, but these waves do not swamp us if our gaze is fixed on the one who has the desire and the power to reach out and to lift us up.
It seems appropriate when we experience a problem, to pour all our energy into resolving the difficulty. Too often this can be the limitation of well-intentioned helping professions: the client is totally focussed on the presenting difficulty, and is unable to see the broader perspective that offers hope. The jogger who has their eyes on their toes will fall flat on their face within a few feet. A gaze of love is the only thing that can save us.
A secular society presents a smorgasboard of possible sources of salvation. The world of advertising is based on people’s need to be something other than they are, and to have something that they presently lack. If my body is this shape, my clothes are this style, my house is in this suburb, my investments are in the right corportation or land packages, my children are at the right schools…again, the list is both endless and deceptive, a mirage, a fantasy of fraudulent promises. These misleading voices are often the loudest voices clamouring to be heard by the desperate pilgrim. Yes, at times we are desperate and grasp blindly at any available relief, but our experience tells us that these harbingers of hope never deliver the depth of satisfaction that they promise. Instead of giving life, our grasping weighs us down and causes us to sink into despair and even death.
You have probably heard the quotation: “the one who has a why to live, can bear any how.” The “why” for the Christian is not a “what” but a “who,” the person of Jesus Christ who reaches out as a gentle whisper of love in the midst of the cacophony, You will notice today’s first reading: Elijah heard the voice of the Lord not in the earthquake, wind or fire, but in the sound of sheer silence, the gentle voice.
And Peter experienced the saving power of the Lord when he called out from his desperation “Lord, save me.”
May we, like Peter, have the wisdom and the courage to do the same.