When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, got into a boat, and started across the lake to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The lake became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the lake and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, ‘It is I; do not be afraid.’ Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land towards which they were going.
– John 6:16-21
These days our most significant perils are often not things that happen out in the world. Instead they originate within our own psyches.
In the chaotic sea of the soul, dark falls. And when dark falls, we are consumed by the agony of self-focus. Our thinking gets crazy. We begin to imagine how huge our mistakes and shortcomings are, how we have let down everyone we have ever loved and performed badly at everything we have ever attempted. We look in the mirror and see ugliness. We appraise ourselves and imagine stupidity, incompetence, loathsome inadequacy.
In these tossing waters, we lose our sense of perspective and direction, and we don’t know which way to turn. We can see nothing except what our fear shows us. There is no hope of redemption. All is bleak. We are worthless – unlovable and useless. And there is no way out.
When this kind of darkness falls, our only hope is to hunker down in the boat and ride out the storm. Maybe we have friends there with us, maybe we are alone. We cannot solve the problem with the same mind that got us into this state in the first place. Nothing does any good. How in these moments do we see beyond our own befuddled state? We hear everything our friends say through filters that strain out all that is positive or affirming. Everything feels impossible. All they can do is keep watch with us. We need someone outside the boat to lend a hand.
The breakthrough often comes when we have finally given up completely. Then sometimes something comes to us from deep within, at that place where we are one with God. At first it is terrifying. It asks questions and presents options that are horrifying in the ways they seem to dismantle our lives. But we know that what is being presented is a radical truth. It is the unorthodox, unexpected, unbelievable intrusion of the Saving One. “I am,” he says to us as he walks to us across the surface of the water. And he is completely undisturbed by the storm. Once he arrives and we invite him into the boat, the raging waters are calmed and the journey is over.
Inviting him into the boat can be rather tricky though. His viewpoint is never tame, never ordinary and almost certainly never what we would expect. At bottom we might have to renounce cherished things with which we identify, such as our low self-esteem and our family’s story about us, our less than fulfilling job, even our most cherished relationships. On the other hand we might have to stretch into understanding that we really are beloved, that we really are one of a kind, precious in God’s sight, and that we really, truly are more valuable than the biggest pearl or the greatest treasure in the world.
We will have to accept the fact of being who we are, in all its most potent mystery and wonder. And we will have to live into that particular reality. “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life,” says Jesus. Be who you were created to be, no matter what the risk, no matter what the cost. Choose your own particular life, make your own mistakes, fall down hard, be a fool, create something. Give what you were meant to give. Work for what brings you present into the eternal moment, into now.
Whenever the storm threatens to swamp us in its cold unruly darkness, we can watch for the Christ within to come walking across the water to our boat. He is always a surprise. First terrifying, then as welcome as coming home, he is the end to the turbulent darkness and a way forward into a new life more truly our own.
Laurie Gudim is a religious iconographer and liturgical artist, a writer and lay preacher living in Fort Collins, CO. See her work online at Everyday Mysteries.