When I was a child, I had a picture by my bed, a sea scene that included the Breton Fisherman’s Prayer, “Oh God be good to me. Your sea is so vast and my boat is so small.” Growing up on the Sussex coast, that made such good sense to me. I was familiar with the days when the waves roiled and surged, throwing shingle up from the beach onto the promenade, so that favourite beaches took on a wholly different form from one storm to the next. I knew which shops and houses would need to close their storm shutters, to ensure that the glass wasn’t broken on stormy winter nights. And I knew, too, that the sound of day time fireworks, a maroon going up near the fishing harbour never meant good news, but rather a signal that the lifeboat was needed. Stormy seas were part of the fabric of my childhood.
Fast forward to my later teens, and life was pretty stormy too. Losing both parents within six months, just as I was leaving school, was scarcely a recipe for halcyon days….Somewhere, the wind was getting up and the waves were beginning to grow larger. But it wasn’t until a few years later, when I began a series of miscarriages, that I really found myself sharing the experience of the disciples. By that time I was certain that I was a Christian. The faith that I had absorbed pretty much by osmosis, the sort that “goes without saying” had flourished during my student years, as I found myself in an environment where everyone wanted to ask the Big Questions, and sat up late night after night debating them. I knew that Jesus and I were travelling together, that I was in his boat (or was he in mine?)…that life would now be all sunshine and smiles.
Except that it wasn’t. As miscarriage followed miscarriage the emotional storm was almost overwhelming. From my perspective, Jesus was asleep right enough, and, like the disciples, I was pretty sure that he didn’t care at all “Teacher do you not CARE that we are perishing?” Unlike the disciples, though, I didn’t have the sense to try and waken him. Instead I struggled on alone, filled with resentment. With so much wrong in my world, why wouldn’t my God intervene?
It’s a question others ask me, again and again…I’m hearing it more at the moment, as redundancies bite, as funds run out, as political and environmental upheavals dominate the news. Many people feel as if they are teetering on the edge of chaos, and so they ask “Where is God? Doesn’t he care? What’s going on?” It’s pretty much the same question that Job had to deal with, as he experienced the undeserved loss of all that he held dear. Oh God, why? Are you asleep, that you let such things happen in your world?
The answer Job is given is nothing like the answer he hoped for. God doesn’t apologise, or justify Godself. Instead God reminds Job, and through Job reminds us, of God’s formidable power. Where we you when I laid the foundation of the earth? And the answer, of course, is that we were nowhere about…because what is going on was and is simply too much for us, beyond our ken in every way.
You see, here’s the thing. We long to domesticate God, we demand that God behaves in ways that fit our schemes… We like the idea of God as a cosy talisman, to be taken about with us as a guarantee of safety. Jesus asleep in the boat on a bright sunny day is just fine for us. Pretty much perfect, in fact...as a sleeping Jesus can surely not make too many demands upon us. But then the storm strikes, and with it all that is dark and chaotic in our selves and in our world. And Jesus sleeps on, resting in the face of turmoil and danger.
Does he not care, or is he simply so rooted in God that he knows there is nothing to fear?
And then Jesus wakes, and the storm is calmed – and that intervention is almost as frightening as the storm. The disciples are terrified They want God’s action, but on their terms, in a way that they can handle…And so once again, they model the behaviour of so many through the ages. “Give us the theory” they cry “but don’t give us yourself. You are too great for us to cope with…too much for anyone to handle” Jesus asleep in the storm seems a let down. Jesus awake and active, calming the waters with a word, is more than we can deal with. But, though the tempests rage everything IS under control. We may be battered and bruised, we may be fast running out of faith, but there is a small, solid pebble of reality in which we can trust. Jesus was able to sleep in that storm tossed boat because he knew that his Father willed nothing bad for him, or for any of his children. He rested in his faith, the faith based upon a perfect trust between Father and Son.
Storms will happen – and their severity has no basis in the strength or weakness of our faith. Storms, personal and circumstantial, are the way life is.
Sometimes it’s quite right to be afraid, and always it’s quite right to ask for help. That help may not appear in the instant, and it may be almost as alarming as the danger….for it will not be help on our terms.
But it will be enough…
We can trust that.
Julian of Norwich had her visions of God as she came close to death. She was almost overwhelmed by her own trials, but instead of sinking, she learned to float again, and offered her experiences as a gift to the church, a gift of faith and love still valued centuries on. Listen to her
"He said not 'Thou shalt not be tempested, thou shalt not be travailed, thou shalt not be dis-eased'; but he said, 'Thou shalt not be overcome."
Amen. May it be so.