There’s a Storm a Comin’
On that day, as evening drew on, he said to them, “Let us cross to the other side.” Leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat just as he was. And other boats were with him. A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was already filling up. Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion. They woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be Still!” The wind ceased and there was great calm. Then he asked them, “Why are you so terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” They were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?”
Every now and then we hit a bad squall and spend the time of prayer bailing out our sinking boat. Sometimes we get frantic and can’t even find the sacred word; it’s buried under the wind and the waves. We cry out, “Help!” Help is one of the greatest prayers ever composed. It is short, to the point, and effective. As fast as we bail out our discomforting thoughts, others flow back in. If we have preconceived ideas or expectations that contemplative prayer will lead us to a state of no thoughts or to the intimate presence of God, the storms can get frightening. When the winds and waves are overwhelming, the question arises, “I thought that Jesus would be here . . . but if he is, he must be fast asleep.”
In this incident Jesus was not only asleep but sleeping on a cushion, thus adding insult to injury. He was very comfortable and not the least bit disturbed by the storm. When the disciples reached the end of their rope, they woke him up. “Don’t you care that we are going down?” they cried out. Jesus got up and rebuked the wind and the storm saying, “Be still.”
These words must resonate in those who are veterans of contemplative prayer. Think of them each time your prayer is dry as dust or you find yourself bombarded with thoughts, struggling with boredom, or utterly discouraged; or when you think that God has gone on a trip to the outer confines of the cosmos, or that God doesn’t care about you anymore. This is one of the most frequent projections that people fall into when they are discouraged. Commentaries multiply like, “I must have done something wrong,” or “Maybe I’m not doing this right.” The afflictive emotions may be reinforced by commentaries from our personal history such as “Nobody loves me. I always ruin everything” — and on and on.
The Lord responds to our desperate cry for help as he did to the disciples. All of a sudden, without knowing how it happened, a delicious peace descends upon us as if we were enveloped in a kind of embrace. We feel ashamed that we ever doubted God’s love or presence. It is as if Jesus said in the midst of our turmoil, “My peace I give you.” Or to the storm, “Be still.”
When God says, “Be still,” everything is still. Whatever God says happens instantly.
— Thomas Keating in Reawakenings
Of all the things in life I’ve worried about, some have actually come true. How much of the storms in life actually happen? How much time, energy and resources do we spend worrying about things that don’t come to pass? And when a real storm comes, how do we deal with it? Do we fret, worry and project the worst possible outcome? The LORD says, “be still and know that I am God.” Some might wonder, “How can I be still when my world is falling apart?” Well, the first thing is that the calamity we create by fretting does not improve our situation. It does not add one positive thing to the outcome. Secondly, and I think this is what Keating is speaking of here, is that is the belief that God is in control. He will bring us through this storm and when it’s all over, we can and will find the good (God) in it if we look for it. For every storm we have, God promises us something good will come of it. Can you rest in that? Can you be still and know that God is in charge and that God wants only good for you?
Love in Christ,
The writings of Fr. Thomas Keating are taken from Spirituality and Practice. The reflections are my own.
M.Rev. Ed Jansen is the Bishop of the Diocese of St. Benedict and Rev. Dr. Trish Gaffney is its Vicar General
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