I’ve been thinking a lot about how strong my proclivity is for calm; for a life that is tame, sedate, and predictable.
Somehow, I’ve gotten the notion into my head that surely God’s desire for me would be a life of comfort and ease. God’s protection and promised presence would surely look like secure relationships, finances, profession, retirement, future…
I’m aware that at least in part, this incessant and often subconscious demand has come about by growing up and living in Western theology and culture that tells me I not only can, but deserve to have it all and that this is what God wants for me too. Even though I know that this is a lie, it’s hard to shake. I find myself asking questions like, “Can’t things just be easy?” “Can’t my life go the way I want it to?” “Why does life often feel like such a struggle?”
And then I begin to wonder: if God were to answer these questions the way I want (translate: by granting me a perfect, conflict-free life) who would that god be? Surely not the God I know from Scripture.
Who is that God?
It’s the God who sleeps in the storm:
On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were lled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:35-41)
This is not a tame, sedate, predictable story. This is not a tame, sedate, predictable God. And the natural question to follow: Why would I anticipate my life to be such if this is the God with whom I’m in relationship?
I’ll admit it: I’m somewhat afraid to let this narrative (and nearly every other one found in the pages of the Bible) define my God or shape my life. If I chose to reflect on, believe in, and live by this image of God – a God who was nonplussed in a treacherous storm – who might I become? That potential – to be like that God – dangerous, risky, not afraid – is more than I often want to imagine or bear…but not in the ways you might think.
The following two quotes speak beautifully to what it might be like, at least in part, to let the images and stories of scripture define my God…define my life:
Death is not the biggest fear we have; our biggest fear is taking the risk to be alive – the risk to be alive and express what we really are. (Don Miguel Ruiz)
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our Light, not our Darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you NOT to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightening about shrinking so that other people won’t feel unsure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. As we let our own Light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. (Marianne Williamson)
Ultimately, the disciples’ fear is not about either death or being inadequate. The disciples’ fear is over what to do with a God who can sleep through such a storm, who can choose to calm it, who has dangerous, unquenchable, beyond-imagining power. Who might they become if they really understood, believed in, and followed this guy?
And like the disciples, our fear is not really over what might happen to us, what might overtake us, what storms might bluster and blow. Our fear is of who we might actually be if we believed in this God of Mark 4, this God of the Bible. Our fear is that we might actually have to let the wind blow; that we might just have to let go of our incessant demand for a life of ease – and the all-too-familiar comfort of doubting God’s faithfulness when things don’t go our way (or God seems to be asleep). We might actually have to get wet!
I think, maybe, that’s what I want…
Maybe – by Mary Oliver
Sweet Jesus, talking
his melancholy madness,
stood up in the boat
and the sea lay down,
silky and sorry.
So everybody was saved
But you know how it is
the threshold—the uncles
the women walk away,
the younger brother begins
to sharpen his knife.
Nobody knows what the soul is.
It comes and goes
Like wind over the water—
Sometimes, for days,
you don’t think of it.
Maybe, after the sermon,
after the multitude was fed,
one or two of them felt
the soul slip forth
like a tremor of pure sunlight
that wants to swallow everything,
gripped their bones and left them
miserable and sleepy,
as they are now, forgetting
how the wind tore at the sails
before he rose and talked to it—
tender and luminous and demanding
as he always was—
a thousand times more frightening
than the killer sea.
No, I’m certain of it: this is the God I want to follow – tender, luminous and demanding, a thousand times more frightening than the killer sea.
This is the God I want to reflect. This is the life I want to live: choosing the storm.