A friend who was a very wise man grounded in a rich prayer practice took medical marijuana as he was dying to combat his anxiety about not being able to breathe. For awhile I was disillusioned by this. Shouldn’t prayer itself have quelled his fear? But in my own prayer I received an answer: compassion. It led me to a deeper understanding.
Today I am pondering the breath-taking miracle of Jesus walking across the water to the disciples in their boat. The wind is high, the sky dark, and they are rowing for all they are worth. All at once they see the Master coming right up to their boat. It is as though they were rowing across the desert instead of the sea. They are terrified, but their fear is turned into a joyful welcome when they hear him say to them, “I am; do not be afraid.”
“I am; do not be afraid.” It’s as if really seeing Jesus in his totality is all that is necessary to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven. And this, I think, is true. It is in the simple act of inviting Jesus into our boat that our journey comes to its end, and we arrive where we wanted to go.
Here is the question, though: where is it, exactly, that we wanted to go? The ego-oriented part of us longs for an end to everything that plagues us. But, as Jesus tells the crowd that has followed him because they were fed and healed out there in the desert, it is not the food that perishes that matters.
It is not physical nourishment nor wholeness of body; it is not money nor power; it is not belonging nor even esteem or self-worth that matters. It’s not about swallowing Jesus like some sort of remedy for feeling bad or lost or broken. It’s not about squeezing our eyes shut and holding his Name up in front of our terrors and broken dreams. The Kingdom of Heaven is none of those things.
My friend experienced a deep anxiety about breathing, but he knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that even in his anxiety Christ was right there with him. Every desperate, in-drawn breath, every heart-wrenching moment of bodily terror was shared. It didn’t make him less God’s man that he suffered. He felt the deep compassion of Jesus’ love. He was already grounded in eternal life.
The shore we actually come to is a new consciousness. We find ourselves, in all our humanness, in the eternal relationship with the living Christ, who spoke the unique word that is each of us before the world began. It is the “I am” of Christ that nourishes us as we each participate in the reality of our existence. When he says, “do not be afraid,” this is what he means; that we know beyond a doubt that he is with us. Everything we go through is shared.
Laurie Gudim is a religious iconographer and writer living in Fort Collins, Colorado. For more information and to see some of her images, visit everydaymysteries.com.