Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | June 20, 2012

Shaken, not stirred

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 filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”   [from Mark 4]

          This story is in the gospel of Mark, but also told in Matthew and Luke.  In all three tellings, Jesus is with the disciples in a boat, a storm comes up, but Jesus has fallen asleep.  Terrified, they wake him, and he calms the storm by calling out across the watery chaos to quiet the wind.

          I’ve spent a lot of time on the water in small boats, and even been through a few storms.  It’s hard to imagine someone could sleep through the wave action, the noise of the wind, the shouts of men, and the thud of oars against the sides of the boat as they try to get it to shore.  Mark adds a detail the other writers don’t:  Jesus was asleep on the cushion.  Who even knew they had boat cushions back then?  His calm contrasts with the fear and anxiety of the others.

          Honestly, the guys had something to be fearful and anxious about. 

          Storms can be deadly.  It’s a truth every fisherman knows.  But Jesus seems not to be afraid of the devastating power.

          He quiets the storm, and then quiets their hearts.  He calls on the wind and waves to be still, and then calls on his friends to have faith.

          Having faith doesn’t mean that something bad can’t happen, that God will protect us from all harm.  Human experience tells us that just plain isn’t true.  Storms come, and sometimes they do serious damage.

          Faith means that God is stronger than the storm.  The same God who brought forth life from the watery chaos (and it seems this very passage obliquely refers to the creation stories of Genesis) is with us whenever our chaos threatens to undo us.

          A few weeks ago our church sang:

                      O Savior, whose almighty word

                     The wind and waves submissive heard,

                     Who walked upon the foaming deep,

                    And calm amid its rage did sleep:

                    O hear us when we cry to Thee

                   For those in peril on the sea.

          We are all sometimes in peril, with good reason to be afraid.  Jesus could sleep through the storm because he knew in the depth of his being that God would keep him close, no matter what happened. 

          It is hard, perhaps impossible, for us to maintain that kind of calm in the face of real danger.  Maybe the best we can hope for is that even when we are afraid, somewhere beneath our fear is the assurance that God is holding us. 

          We can be afraid without losing the sense that we are not alone.

          Distressed, but not without a foundation underneath us.

          Shaken, but not stirred from the faith that holds us fast.

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2012


  1. This blog entry reminded me of my fear of water. Everyone else in my family are river rats who took to water without trepidation and are confident swimmers. Even when I go on a water slide, I mobilize terror as I careen into the three-foot pool below. As you have guessed, I can’t swim.
    The biblical parable puzzled out here gives me courage (def. of courage: “grace under pressure”) to face the unknown, the unexpected, the perilous, with hope and faith. I have learned that fear tends to overwhelm us, to paralyze us, to throw us back on the weakest aspects of ourselves. Jung called that side of us our Shadow—and not without good reason.
    I think that part of the lesson of this passage is the need and value of surrendering to God during our peril. But I also believe that another lesson is to confront our terrors and strengthen the shadowy facets of our personalities so we can integrate them with our strongest virtues. That way we can experience a greater sense of wholeness and grow as a person of faith and character. I have met people who have traveled that long road. I admire them for their fortitude. In some ways, they appear as Christ-like in their conduct and manner. In other respects, they struck me as really quite human.
    Maybe that is what it means to “be like Christ”—an adage that has long troubled me. If this bible story reflects the man Jesus’s Christ side, perhaps Gethsemane shows his very human side.

  2. I really enjoyed this writing very much.

  3. Thank you, Melissa. Truly a piece worth reflecting upon. I also very much appreciated Ernie Y’s response. I am a long time swimmer, a “river rat” as he may suppose, and having been on the Sea of Galilee in a boat back in March, I believe I could most likely swim ashore if need be and knocked out of a boat.

    But, what really strikes me is not the threat of death from the water, but the urge we all have to sink into the misery of our immediate problem at hand. Why is it that we can look back at problems from years’ past (form a safe distance) and not have that same fear we had in the moment the issue/struggle/choice was at hand? If, as I suspect, problems become much clearer in hindsight, perhaps we need to trust much more in God to keep us steady in the moment.

    Many say, “Let go and let God.” Not my favorite saying, but it fits.

    That’s not to take away from the seriousness of any problem people currently face, but to temper it, to “still” it, as Jesus might, thus disallowing it from taking hold/fear on us.

    peace, and good night.

  4. […] Shaken, not stirred ( […]

  5. […] Shaken, not stirred ( […]

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