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