Lectionary Reflection—13 August 2017

Right then, Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead to the other side of the lake while he dismissed the crowds. 23When he sent them away, Jesus went up onto a mountain by himself to pray. Evening came and he was alone.

24Meanwhile, the boat, fighting a strong headwind, was being battered by the waves and was already far away from land.

25Very early in the morning Jesus came to his disciples, walking on the lake. 26When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified and said, “It’s a ghost!” They were so frightened they screamed.

27Just then Jesus spoke to them, “Be encouraged! It’s me. Don’t be afraid.”

28Peter replied, “Lord, if it’s you, order me to come to you on the water.”

29And Jesus said, “Come.”

Then Peter got out of the boat and was walking on the water toward Jesus. 30But when he saw the strong wind, Peter became frightened. As he began to sink, he shouted, “Lord, rescue me!”

31Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him, saying, “You man of weak faith! Why did you begin to have doubts?” 32When they got into the boat, the wind settled down.

33Then those in the boat worshipped Jesus and said, “You must be God’s Son!”

Jesus walking on water.

This is probably one of the most famous Jesus stories ever. The other half of the story is equally famous in churches everywhere—Peter walking on water. The homilies usually go something like this:

“Here’s Peter, walking on the water by faith, keeping his eyes on Jesus. But, when Peter gets distracted by the ‘cares of this world’ and takes his eyes off Jesus, he loses his faith, and he starts to sink. So, keep your eyes on Jesus and you, too, can walk on the water through all the stormy weather in your life.”

If I’m completely honest, and I usually am, this type of aphorism makes me nauseous now. Oh, I’m sure it was amazing “back in the day,” but not anymore. The underlying thought is this—if you’re going through storms in your life, well, you must have taken your eyes off Jesus. It’s not Jesus who changed, you must have changed.

Comments like that seem flippant, unhelpful and, quite frankly, stink of self-righteousness and feel so uncaring.

But I don’t want to get into any of this. I want to focus on something else; something I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone speak to before:

Right then, Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead to the other side of the lake while he dismissed the crowds. 23When he sent them away, Jesus went up onto a mountain by himself to pray. Evening came and he was alone.

After Jesus dismisses everyone, he returns to what he started to do before this all happened—he went off by himself to pray.

There’s something to be said about praying alone. Certainly, communal prayer can be a very fruitful thing. It might even help people learn how to pray. But, as I’ve experienced it, it always leaves me feeling “less than” everyone else. When I’m praying with a community, I’m awestruck at how “good” other’s prayers are and how “not-so-good” my prayers are. I always feel like I have a long way to go. I never seem to say the “right” words or express my thoughts or feelings well. I fumble over what I want to say and how to say it. In short, I feel like such a mess when I pray publically.

But praying by myself? That’s a different story.

When I’m alone and praying, I don’t ever worry about how “good” my prayer is. It just “is”. Depending on when and why I’m praying, my prayers take different shapes. When I awake early in the morning for morning prayer, I go through the Morning Office (part of the set prayers the church has had since the very beginning) and then I sit in silence for about twenty minutes. My whole prayer ritual takes about 30-40 minutes.

When I’m really going through something, though, there’s no formality—I just say how I feel. I pour out my thoughts and struggles. And sit in silence without any set time (although it’s generally not very long).

Recently a loved one was really struggling with some very scary issues and I stayed up most of the night in prayer. This is where written prayers come in handy. It’s easy to continue in prayer when you’re reading through the prayers of godly women and men throughout the ages. It helps one focus on the duty at hand. Most prayer books have sections on specific needs—healing, job, new baby, etc. Having several prayer books like I do, one can go from one set of prayers in one book to another set of prayers in a different book and really keep that person or situation in mind the entire time.

There’s an ancient Celtic prayer called the caim (a Gaelic word for encompassing, pronounced kyme) or encircling prayer. Extending your right index finger to the ground as you pray, you “draw” a circle sunwise (i.e., clockwise) around yourself symbolizing the encompassing Love of God. See yourself (and/or others) encircled and be aware that you’re safe and enveloped by the love of God; that you’re encompassed, enfolded, and protected. Often, when I don’t know what to pray, I pray a caim.

Finally, there’s silent meditation that I’ve mentioned a couple of times. My Abbott once said that his prayers are becoming more and more silent. For me, silent meditation accompanies my regular prayer time in the morning. Sometimes, though, I use it in conjunction with Celtic bead prayers (I use an Anglican rosary and say a prayer focused on Celtic themes). I generally do this type of prayer during breaks at work. I find a secluded spot (preferably outside), get out my prayer beads (which I almost always have in my pocket), go through the prayer, and finish the remainder of time in silence (roughly about ten minutes).

But what is silent meditation? I’ve explained it this way: Think of a small child wanting to sit in her Mother’s lap. You might be at a family gathering or over at a friend’s house. The little child comes into where all the adults are and climbs into her Mother’s lap for no other reason than wanting to be there. That’s what silent meditation is for me—resting in God’s lap. I don’t want to ask for anything or make any type of demands or even thank God for anything. I just want to be in God’s presence. Resting my head on God’s bossom. That’s all. And some of those times have been the most healing times of all.

I like to think of this story as that type of time for Jesus. Remember, the context of this story. His close cousin, John, had recently been executed and Jesus went off to be by himself and God. I’m sure there was going to be a lot of pain and tears in those moments with his Father. But, when he arrived at his place of solitude, the crowd was already there and he couldn’t exactly leave them. Instead, he healed all of their sick and fed them with the disciples food. Our story today starts when he sent everyone away and he, finally, had time to himself to anguish over John’s death. After all of the ministry and energy he poured out on the people, he might have been completely exhausted and sat in silence; sitting in his Father’s lap. He might have wept some, too. I know I would have.

And that’s one of the important points I want to make. Jesus is a completely relatable person. He experiences all of the same pain and sorrow and troubles and doubts that any of us experience. He feels the same things we feel. I don’t think it’s too far afield to see him weeping in silence for hours until there aren’t any tears left. But it’s in that moment that he’s most like us—scared, vulnerable, alone. Because there are times when we’re utterly like that. Sure, we may have a lot of close friends, but there are times when we’re alone—when we must be alone. And trust that Jesus is right there, too. Not trying to console us. Not trying to give us the empty platitudes mentioned above. No. He’s sitting there; present with us in the silence.

That, my friends, is a very comforting image to me. I don’t want friends like Job had who tried to fix things. Sometimes, I just want a friend to sit with me, be with me.

My prayer is that I can be that person for others.

In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC


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