Tuesday, October 23, 2007
The Now and The Not Yet
The pier at Sunset Beach. As I stood beneath it and took this photo, I marveled at how those sturdy beams withstood the pounding of the waves. But I also remembered all the times I have seen weathermen and women stand beside the remainder of such structures after the passage of a hurricane. The power of the wind and waves can overwhelm even the strongest buildings... and people.
There is a curious, confounding, and reassuring story in the New Testament book of Mark, chapter 4, that I have been thinking about this afternoon. It is the story of Jesus and His disciples crossing the lake. Here is the story - with my commentary:
That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, "Let us go over to the other side of the lake." Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.
Whose idea was it to cross the lake? It was Jesus' idea. I wonder if the disciples wondered why they were crossing. Did they even want to cross? Was there something on the other side that they had decided they wanted to see or explore? Or was the decision exclusively his? No answer is provided in the text, but we read that they got into the boat.
Makes me wonder: how many of the paths in my life were taken without much forethought on my part? Was there something on the other side of grad school, marriage, parenthood, homeschooling that I decided I wanted to see? How did I decide to take these pathways, to travel this particular route through life? Looking back, the answers to those questions aren't entirely clear, but nevertheless here I am in the boat. I am not alone in this boat. There are lots of boats floating around on the vast ocean that is this life, and there are lots of people in all those boats.
All kinds of furious squalls have come upon us, and many of our boats are being swamped. There are the Southern Californians in all kinds of boats, trying to escape the squalls of fire. The water-weary residents of New Orleans are watching their city flood again - in different kinds of boats. The afraid, the alone, the abandoned - are in the boat. There are the abused, the confused, the misused, the misunderstood, and the downright downtrodden - all in their own boats, watching the waves overtake them one by one.
Where are we going, Lord? What's on the other side of this choppy, turbulent, life-threatening water? When will we reach the other side? Will we reach the other side?
Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?"
I don't know about anybody else out there, but I've spent an inordinate amount of time asking this question lately. I sometimes couch it in kinder, gentler, more sanctified terms than the disciples did, but the question is essentially the same.
DON'T YOU CARE THAT WE ARE IN AN EXCEPTIONAL DROUGHT, THE WORST ON RECORD?
DON'T YOU CARE THAT OTHER PEOPLE, IN OTHER PARTS OF THE WORLD, ARE WATCHING ALL THEIR WORLDLY POSSESSIONS FLOAT AWAY IN FLOOD WATERS?
DON'T YOU CARE THAT THE CALIFORNIA FIRES ARE RAGING OUT OF CONTROL WITHOUT ANY REPRIEVE IN SIGHT?
DON'T YOU CARE THAT ALL THREE OF THAT WOMAN'S CHILDREN HAVE DIED?
DON'T YOU CARE THAT THEIR INFANT SON HAS TO UNDERGO ANOTHER SURGERY?
DON'T YOU CARE THAT THAT DAD DESPERATELY WANTS TO PROVIDE FOR HIS FAMILY?
DON'T YOU CARE THAT SHE FEELS SO DESPERATELY AFRAID AND ALONE?
DON'T YOU CARE THAT SHE IS ALLERGIC TO BEE STINGS AND MOST MEDICATIONS?
DON'T YOU CARE THAT HER DAUGHTER IS SEVERELY HANDICAPPED AND THAT SHE IS EXHAUSTED?
DON'T YOU CARE THAT WE ARE ALL DROWNING HERE?
DON'T YOU CARE?
This part is the now.
The tears, the troubles, the loss, the anguish.
This is the now.
Next comes the "not yet."
He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, "Peace. Be still." Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
"Lord, I beg you, please wake up. Stand up. Rebuke the waves, the flames, the fists being cocked back in anger, the pink slips being pushed across desks in apathy, the disease that claims entire families and villages, the violence, the bullets, the racism, and the all-consuming greed. Lord, please calm the stormy marriages and parent-child relationships, the fears of all people the world over. Lord, I pray for a calming of the wind and the seas that threaten to overwhelm all of us. Please cause the roaring of our anxious hearts to quiet down and the shaking of our shrill voices to be still. Please bring us peace."
Here is a lone surfer, against all odds, facing the ocean waves alone.
How often I have felt like him. And you?
He said to his disciples, "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?"
My answer to his questions: "I'm afraid because I don't have the power to bring peace, not to my children, not to my friends, not even to myself. I'm afraid because I cannot see the horizon, but I believe that you can. I'm afraid because I'm human, and humans are fearful creatures. I'm afraid because my faith wavers. Or does my faith waver because I'm afraid? I don't know the answer to that question either, Lord, but I do know this: I am afraid. I do have faith - most of the time. No, I have faith all of the time; it's just that doubts come right along with my faith. Questions too. Wondering.
"If you don't mind, by way of answering your second question, I'm gonna quote back to you something someone said to you in Mark 9, 'I do believe; help my unbelief.' You promised In Joshua 1 that you would be with us. You promised in Philippians 4 that your peace would pass our understanding. You promised in Isaiah 43 that the fire and the floods wouldn't burn us or sweep over us. Lord, please help us to stand strong and watch with rapt attention as you keep your promises."
They were terrified and asked each other, "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him."
Here is another part of the not yet.
The wind and waves haven't obeyed yet.
At least not as far as I can see now.
The now and the not yet.
Right now, the earth is parched and the trees are dying here in Charlotte.
Right now, the sky is dark and cloudy.
Right now, however, it's not raining.