TWELFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
“Why are you terrified?” Mk. 4:40
The very first words out of the mouth of the angel Gabriel when speaking to Mary are: “Do not be afraid.” The Bible seems particularly intent on repeating that statement, almost like a mantra. A scripture scholar tells us, for example, that these same four words are spoken 365 times throughout sacred scripture!
Perhaps you’ll remember also the beautifully soothing passage from the gospel of Luke in which Jesus tells his followers to not worry, but instead to place all their trust in God. After pointing to the wildflowers, one translation reads: “If God gives so much attention to them, don’t you think he’ll attend to you, do his best for you?” He ends this calming passage by saying: “Do not be afraid …. You’re my dearest friends.” (Lk 12:32)
Why so much emphasis on this single emotion of fear?
Here’s an answer one person gives to that question: “Fear is love’s greatest killer.”
Here’s another by a psychiatrist: “… fear is a disease of the imagination. It is invisible, like a virus. It sets upon you unwanted, stealing its way into your consciousness until it dominates your life. As the fear infiltrates your mind, it diminishes your ability to enjoy your family, and your friends – all because you live in fear of what might go wrong. Fear undermines your ability to work, to love, to play.”
It also cripples your ability to become transformed – which is the whole purpose of the gospel and of the coming of Jesus Christ into our anxiety-ridden world.
Jesus is adamant: we cannot move forward in faith until we have learned how to deal with our fears.
In today’s gospel, when Mark describes the “violent squall” and the “great windstorm,” it sounds a lot like the fears you and I encounter every day. According to the American Psychological Association, the most common “waves breaking over the boat” of our lives are: job pressures; money concerns; health issues; and relationship worries, including divorce and loneliness. After these, come the matters of media overload and sleep deprivation.
And then there are our deeper fears: Am I enough? Can I make it through life with all the things that scare me?
Living with any of these fears can easily cause us to scream out along with the disciples in today’s gospel: “Do you not care that we are perishing?” Jesus’ response to this question is very important for us to look at. He doesn’t scold. He doesn’t dismiss our terror. Instead, he demonstrates both his intense love for us and his awesome power over all our fears by simply speaking three words: “Peace, be still.” And the winds cease.
What he’s trying to communicate to us is the importance of trust. He is asking us to choose faith over fear. It’s not that he doesn’t understand how all-consuming fear can be. He will experience it himself in his agony in the garden. But, just as he trusted his Father there, we are invited to do the same.
He’s asking us to bring our fears to him. Lay them at his feet. Shout them from the top of our lungs – all the time trusting that Jesus both cares and has the power to bring us through them.
One of the most effective ways of doing this, according to many spiritual writers, is to use prayer – especially meditation, which is now being spoken of as “mindfulness.” This practice, formerly used only in monasteries, is catching on with many people these days – along with daily exercise and other healthy practices. It can involve just 5-10 minutes daily of calming yourself through deep breathing while focusing on the simple repetition of the word “Jesus,” or a scripture passage like Psalm 46, verse 10: “Be still, and know that I am God.”
That deep trust we want so desperately can also be enhanced through daily reminders of the most consoling and comforting words Jesus ever spoke to us: “Do not be afraid … You are my dearest friends.”
As “dearest friends,” our faith will tell us that we are not left alone, that we are infinitely cherished, and that each of us can daily repeat those same three words Jesus spoke so calmly in the midst of a terrifying storm: “Peace, be still.”
With these aids, our hope is that the same thing that happened in that boat so long ago will take place for each one of us now: “the winds ceased, and there was a dead calm.”
(Please note ADDENDUM below)
ADDENDUM: The following is a poem written by a long-time friend of mine that is perhaps a more powerful way of saying what I attempted above. Her name is Judi Heikes. This is included with her permission.
Put the phone down
Stop the fingers flicking
Close the door
Shut out the noise of any kind.
See what happens.
There is a price to be paid
for radical silence.
The quieting of everything
You in the Singular
But the pain of
Letting all words drift
Owning the refusal
to enter into discourse
of the absurd
Can only come
to be known
in the silence of Self
They are found
and given in their essential extravagance
For they are
So be still
And from you
In the your embrace
You will be
all that they are.
Ted Wolgamot, Psy.D.