Jesus Doesn’t Want Me for a Sunbeam

Jesus, don’t want me for a sunbeam
Sunbeams are never made like me
– The Vaselines

I’ve always wondered why the Jesus narrative is so compelling. Why is Jesus the focus of so much cultural reference. Why, for instance, is the name Jesus Christ considered an expletive whereas Buddha is not? I guess in Christianised societies it may have to do with a rejection of the past. People consciously going against the “not allowed”. But is there more to it than that?

The song by The Vaselines, covered by Nirvana, Jesus Doesn’t Want Me for a Sunbeam always hits me when I hear it. It is somehow a tragic song. The simple lyrics seem to hang heavy with pain. And perhaps that’s the reason why so many people relate to the song. Because they feel the pain of not being perfect. Or not being perfect enough, after having been told their whole lives that they needed to be a “sunbeam for Jesus”.

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Tragic figures seem to be drawn to the suffering of Jesus. Jesus is a tragic figure himself and I think subconsciously, a lot of people see themselves in Jesus as he hangs alone on the cross. But there is also something repulsive about the murder of an innocent, the injustice of Christ’s death, which I think affects people deeply.

Why did Kurt Cobain cover this song? Obviously I can only speculate but to me this song is a prayer. A truly honest prayer. It’s something like the tax collector at the back of the temple.

But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

Luke 18:9-14

There is an element of fatalism in both this song and the tax collector’s prayer. The tax collector’s job was considered “sinful” by many Jews at that time as he would have collected tax for the Roman oppressor. There is no indication he plans on changing his job and it would probably have been quite difficult to do so, but he acknowledges honestly, in front of God, that he is imperfect, and lives in an imperfect world, in an imperfect situation.

The song does something similar. “Jesus, don’t want me for a sunbeam, sunbeams are never made like me”.   Playing off the children’s hymn, I’ll Be Your Sunbeam, it seems to be saying, “I’m not perfect, and I can’t be”. However, the song’s most tragic element is its ultimate rejection of Jesus – “don’t ever ask your love of me”. Despite the catchy tune and tempo, that is an emphatically angry line! And I suspect that, although the addressee of the song is Jesus, it is actually addressed to the Church.

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

This anger at the idea that we are born sinful, that we enter the world already damned and need to be fixed is an understandable anger. And to question that idea is a sound theological question which brings you to the table with the likes of St. Paul, Augustine, Origen, and Justin Martyr, just for starters! It can be a damaging idea – which I am not putting forward my own views on here (maybe in a future post) – but it is an idea which seeks to explain suffering in the world. An attempt to answer the question: Why is there evil?

The reason I call it a tragic song is because although this sort of rejection of Christianity is usually equated with liberation from the “shackles of religion”, this song doesn’t hold that feeling – It feels like a goodbye song; a break up song. There is a real sense of loss and disappointment. Or maybe I’m just projecting.

If I could take away a message from this song, and from the prevalence of Jesus in modern culture despite its seeming rejection of religion, it would be that people know they are broken, hurt and wounded. People see the pain and suffering in the world and they direct their anger at the one institution which was supposed to take it all away but, ultimately, ended up adding to it. It is anger against hypocrisy.

I feel that this anger, while justified, is short sighted because the Church did not create Jesus, Jesus created the Church… and we are the Church – and so we need to ask what does Jesus really want me for? Jesus doesn’t want me for a sunbeam, that is completely right – He wants me to, first of all, love and forgive myself, and second, to do the same for others. Forgiveness implies a conscious decision to love a person who you know is imperfect and you know will possibly hurt you again – and this applies to yourself too.

“Don’t ever ask your love of me”. Is the singer telling Jesus he won’t ever love him, or that he can’t accept Jesus’ love for himself? It is difficult to love ourselves and we often forget that the golden rule, “Love your neighbour” also includes “as you love yourself”. A rewording of this rule for our time might hold more weight: Accept your neighbour as you accept yourself.

Do I accept myself?

And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments…”

“Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.”

And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him,

“You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

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How Can I Believe?

God? Gods? A God? Goddess?

If you are anything like me, you’ve probably seriously questioned how on earth you can believe in any form of supernatural being. Or perhaps you wonder how you can believe in any of the world religions which seem to be a quagmire of complicated doctrines that people argue over incessantly to no avail.

I’m sorry, I can’t help you! Because it is hard.

A vast majority of the human population professes some form of faith. Some form of belief in a higher power. This in itself raises an interesting question. Is our desire for “religion” innate; Part of our makeup somehow? An evolutionary failsafe developed to placate our growing self-awareness? Or is there something to it?

I’ve been taking a course in the history of Western Philosophy this semester and what strikes me is how many philosophers have argued for the existence of God. In some ways, it seems to have been one of the primary discourses of philosophy up until the modern period.
One particular writer who I have found interesting is Anselm of Canterbury, an Italian bishop who lived in the 11th Century and was considered one of the greatest minds of his time. He was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury (in Catholic England) and is considered a saint in the Catholic and Anglican Church.

His idea that God is “that of which a greater cannot be thought” can at times seem like a ridiculously stupid argument and at others, pure genius.
His basic argument being that if you don’t believe in God, you must concede that you can think of the idea of God and understand the idea of God as something that transcends all other things. i.e. the greatest thing that can be thought.
But then he says, if you are thinking of something which nothing greater can be thought, then it must exist, because if it doesn’t, then it isn’t something which nothing greater can be thought! Because any existing thing would by default be greater by the mere fact that it exists!

There is obviously more to his arguments (see Proslogion) but my point is to show that the intellectual discussion and reasoning that went into many philosophers’ discussions about God was remarkable. This is in stark contrast to how people perceive “believers” today.

But perhaps the hardest thing to wrap our heads around is why there is suffering in this world. In light of the terrible conflicts and terror attacks around the world recently, you can be forgiven for questioning whether a divine being exists and if it does exist, what is its nature that it leaves us to suffer? There are of course arguments and discussions around this topic, but much of that rhetoric falls flat in the face of the reality of human suffering. You cannot spout philosophy or apologetics to a mother who has lost her child.

I remain, however, positively biased towards God’s existence. I mean this in the sense that even though I may doubt, I have not written off the possibility of a God and I have not written off the possibility that I can know something about this God; that relationship is possible. How we achieve this relationship? That is a question of faith!

The last few months have been quite a rollercoaster ride for me personally. Living in Leuven is amazing and I love my course immensely (despite the stresses!). I’ve learnt a lot about myself too, about my strengths, my faults and how to approach both of these things. I’ve enjoyed intimacy and I’ve hurt people, I’ve been reckless and I’ve been too cautious, I’ve been joyful and I’ve been terribly sad. And this is where, perhaps, philosophy falls short because what is logical about emotion and life and pain and joy? And this is where, perhaps, theology steps in and says, “I am not sure either, but I have some ideas.” And finally, faith steps in and says quietly, “I’m here.”

Lord my God, teach my heart
where and how to seek You, where and how to find You. If You
are not here, 0 Lord, where shall I seek You who are absent? But
if You are everywhere, why do I not behold You as present? But
surely You dwell in light inaccessible. Yet, where is light inaccessible?
Or how shall I approach unto light inaccessible? Or who will
lead me to and into this light so that in it I may behold You?
– Anselm of Canterbury

To Whom Shall We Go?

To whom indeed?

For what if Peter had turned to face the Lord only to discover He wasn’t even there? Who had he been following all this time? Crestfallen and alone, would he have gone back to his boat and cast out into the deep hoping to pull Baptismsomething up? Anything… His endless net never emerging from the dark waters no matter how much he pulled and struggled and cursed and screamed, it was
pointless.

Would he stare down into the depths, noting its emptiness, its continuous descent? Recalling, perhaps, a dream of walking on water?

Simon, did you hear? Did you hear a voice saying, “Follow me”? Were you sitting by the shore mending your nets, arguing with Andrew about the weather and tides? Did He pass you by?

Did you love Him?

Who? Did you ever know Him?

How do we proceed from these shores, once the wind has stopped and the view is clear? As we warm ourselves by the fire, which way do we choose when all ways are open; yet somehow all unappealing?

But sometimes…

Maybe…

Perhaps…

…in that silhouette on the horizon, a flicker in someone’s eyes, the breaking of bread there is a whisper. Faint. Soft. Like a passing wind high above.

Where were you, Peter? Where was I?

When the foundations were laid? I cannot tell you as I don’t know so much.

For now, all I can do is to sit on the still lake and wait, watching the shore for a familiar face.

Seagulls over Lac Leman

Belief in the Questions

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There are questions…  But God is in the questions.

I am about to embark on a new adventure in my life. Today I begin my Bachelor in Theology and Religious Studies here in Leuven, Belgium. This blog will still remain NOT a Theology class!

Interestingly, although I am about to start studying Theology, sometimes I don’t know whether I really do believe in God.
But then I realise that I do believe in the questions.
Perhaps this state of questioning and doubt is the right place to start a Theological exploration from.

The questions are existential ones and they seem to pursue me rather than the other way around. It would be impossible for me to ignore them without numbing myself in some way or another. And their pursuit ultimately means I must turn and face them.
They are ancient questions, they are the questions.

My hope as I start this new phase of life is to wade through the centuries of minds who have also been pursued by this existential angst. I don’t necessarily believe the questions have answers but I do think they will help me grow and learn.

“Let us never forget that this simple desire for God is already the beginning of faith”
Br.Roger of Taizé

The God Confusion

God is…

God is what?

There is a saying that if you can understand God then that’s not God. Nonetheless, I wrestle with this elusive being frequently and more so over the last few months.

Christians believe in a God who has revealed himself to humankind and as such it follows, to a certain extent, that he can be known; Through nature, other people, the scriptures and ultimately a personal relationship with Jesus.Jesus is seen as God made flesh and he reveals to us a loving, self-sacrificing God.

This is all well and good but it is based on the premise that God can in fact be known. We might say it is obvious through the beauty of nature that there is a God but nature can be brutal, violent and harsh. Most Christians will attest to experiencing God through scripture. This based on the belief that scripture is God inspired. But that in itself is not self-authenticating. Scripture cannot authenticate itself.

So how can we know that the God we know is the God to know? Ultimately, there will always be a step of faith required and that is something which cannot be quantified and, I suppose, that’s a step many an agnostic or atheist just can’t take.

But for me, doubt as I may, I always get to a point where I cannot explain away a God. And that is the beginning.

If we stop for a moment and become aware of this moment right now, the mere fact that our consciousness continues and everything around us stays where it is, holding itself in a position according to the laws of nature; that there is order instead of chaos, something instead of nothing; these are facts that are just as mind boggling and unfathomable as any idea about God. And I believe they fall into the same sphere.
Because there isn’t nothing. We need to understand that nothing really is nothing. We can’t imagine it because if we could then it would be something.

But there is something and the question remains. How and why? The only rational conclusion I can come to is that there had to be a creator. Any other explanation falls short. As for who this creator is, your guess is as good as mine!

But something that occurs to me and is worth pondering is this…

If there is a creator and this creator is capable of creating all we see around us from the vastness of the galaxies to the intricacies of cells and molecules, then why did He/She/It create us and why did He/She/It give us our self-awareness?

Perhaps these are the first questions toward figuring out the nature of this creator and I suppose in a sense, if we try to answer these questions, we can begin to know who He/She/It might be.
And maybe that’s okay. Maybe it is okay to believe in God. Maybe it is not as crazy as people think. On the contrary it may be the most rational explanation for this… all of this.

And so, for now, I am happy with saying

God is.

Seagulls over Lac Leman“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.” The Book of Job 38, verse 4

Lost Faith

Lost
“Your hope is not a mocking dream… We cannot hope until we know, however obscurely, that there is something to hope for…”
Maria Boulding

Some may have noticed a lack of posts the last month or so. Rather than explaining I will share some journal excerpts that I wrote this weekend during a retreat at Worth Abbey:

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I’m finding a slowness in my soul. A pain that is just ahead of me that I want to feel but, like in a dream, I’m weighed down and can’t catch it. I only ever get the tail end – a dull unsatisfactory ache. I long to pass through the pain, to weep it out; the fear, the insecurity.

I long for peace, for healing, for forgiveness. Where have I gone? Father…
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There is a firing range nearby, I can hear the shots through the forest. In this peaceful place, a faint reflection of war.
Somewhere deep inside, hidden in the woods, a battle rages – but on the surface it seems calm.

Where will peace come from? From Christ? I’m told… I want to believe that.

But the echoes of the firing range follow me as I walk up the muddy path back to the monastery
______________

Advent has begun. A time for new beginnings. This advent I want to let go, to be okay with being lost.

My journal entries speak of a desire to feel. To encounter my emotions, letting them flow and to encounter Christ. These are my prayers for advent.

“If you want God, and long for union with him, yet sometimes wonder what that means or whether it can mean anything at all, you are already walking with the God who comes. If you are at times so weary and involved with the struggle of living that you have no strength even to want him, yet are still dissatisfied that you don’t, you are already keeping Advent in your life. If you have ever had an obscure intuition that the truth of things are somehow better, greater, more wonderful than you deserve or desire, that the touch of God in your life stills you by its gentleness, that there is a mercy beyond anything you could ever suspect, you are already drawn into the central mystery of salvation.” – Maria Boulding – The Coming of God

Thomas Merton on Free Will

Motivation at a low in recent days.

I’ve spent the last week working on a passion project; A typographic animation of a lecture by Thomas Merton on Free Will.

I posed a theological dilemma to our parish deacon a few days ago. In tongue and cheek I asked him how someone could be held accountable for his or her actions if that person was brought up in an environment that provided more opportunities to choose a life of gangsterism than opportunities for education and employment. Who’s to say that person would have turned out the same if he was given the same opportunities and privileges that I have had in my life?

He replied by asking me how Cain new it was wrong to kill Abel. In the moment I didn’t have an answer. How did Cain know it was wrong to kill Abel? He was essentially the first murderer and he had no “preconception” of right and wrong. After a bit of thought, the answer seems to be that Cain had the knowledge of what is right and wrong already written in his heart. We know he knew he had done wrong when God questions him he responds, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”. Having God’s law written on his heart may not be the most satisfactory answer but when I think of someone born into a situation where gangsterism seems like an appealing life choice, that’s the key: It is still a choice. A harder one than any I’ve had to face, but a choice nonetheless. Does God take that into account?

I’d like to believe that.

 

The Happy Ending

Busted beatle in Limpopo

“Everything will be alright in the end and if it’s not all right it’s not the end”
Patel… or John Lennon.

“Shut it”
Me
This is not a post about pessimism.

This is a post about reality.

Usually when it comes time for me to write  my blog post, I am wrestling with ideas and topics, carving out arguments, chomping at the bit to get writing.

Today is different. None of my “theological questions” feel that important. Rather, I’ve been pondering the idea of “the happy ending”.

How often has someone told you that things will work out?
“Don’t worry, everything will be okay in the end. These things sort themselves out.”
To be honest, that is easy to say when one is a reasonably well off middle class individual.
And in many cases, in those circles, it is true that things will “work out”.

But tell that to the people in South Sudan, the people in the Gaza Strip. Tell that to starving children, or the people dying alone in hospital.
“It will be okay!”
Actually, for many of them, it won’t.

Israeli Soldier

Israeli soldiers deployed in Nablus during Operation Defensive Shield, April 2002

It’s a bitter pill to swallow, because saying things will be okay is how we make reality easier to deal with.

I believe in prayer, and I believe in the power of prayer to affect some sort of change in the world. How? I have no clue but I have experienced it in my own life and know God hears our prayers. Usually He surprises me with the way He answers them though.

But when it comes to praying for a situation like the one in Israel and Palestine, where do you start?

This is one of the biggest arguments against the existence of God. How could an all loving God allow such suffering to happen on earth?

I discussed this recently with a friend and we concluded that there is no way to answer this question. The “text book” answers are embarrassingly bad attempts at explaining the existence of pain and death in the world.

Genesis recounts The Fall of Man and to me that was the early Jewish people trying to explain what they observed in the world. They were trying to answer that very same question. Why is there suffering? The conclusion? Because “man”.

You see, free will is an interesting thing. If you stopped a baby from trying to walk out of fear that she would fall down and hurt herself, how would the baby learn to walk? Genesis seems to be saying that God gave us free will to choose right or wrong because if He made us only capable of choosing “right”, then it is no longer “right”. We are just preprogrammed robots and our “choosing good” means nothing. The same applies to love. The Church would argue that God gave us free will so that we may freely choose to love Him. God will not force us to love him or choose Him.
He loves us so much that He refuses to impose Himself on us but rather tries to get our attention through gentle whispers.

So, we have free will to choose wrong. And we readily do.

I have no explanation for suffering. When I was in London last year, I experienced two of the worst weeks of my life as a result of a recurrence of my Anxiety Disorder – Primarily Obsessional OCD.

I can remember sitting in my matchbox-sized room thinking, what if I don’t get better? (Typical OCD thinking) I remember begging God to help me but at the same time asking myself, why should He? What if He has given up on me? What if I am destined to be another statistic? A mental case, locked up for life. A tragic story of a young life gone too soon.

Because that happens and what can we say in those situations. “It will be alright”?… Please. It’s usually best to not say anything in such cases.

But before I send you into a spiral of despair and existential meltdown, I’d like to challenge you and myself to think of how to do something about the suffering around us and two, (bare with me here if you aren’t Catholic… or Christian) find a picture of a crucifix. Here I’ll help:

Basilica of Saint Sabina - Crucifix

One of the earliest depictions of the Crucifixion in the Basilica of Saint Sabina, Rome

And think about the fact that Christians (we, us, I) believe that the man hanging on that cross is God (well, not literally the little figurine on the cross, but you know what I mean).

GOD, the Being that spoke the Universe into existence, dead on a cross, after being beaten and tortured. “Everything will be alright in the end. And if it’s not alright it’s not the end.”

Flip, I guess His disciples were like, “This dude said He was God. Now He’s dead. Peace out!”

We all know the rest of the story though.

So the point is, suffering. Everyone suffers. People die of cancer, children get bombed in Gaza, people die in their own faeces in hospitals here in South Africa. Where is God?

On that cross.

Before you roll your eyes, let me try elaborate. The way I see it is that if Jesus took on humanity’s sin and suffering (as we believe) then that includes all suffering, from the beginning of time to the end of time. (That’s a lot of suffering)

Why did He do this? Because our freewill remained so important to Him that rather than click His fingers and solve all the problems, He stepped into the ring and showed us how to suffer and showed us that we are not alone.

So in taking all of humanity’s sufferings on Himself that means that all suffering finds its meaning in the cross. That child dying of starvation, his death is not meaningless. He is innocent and his death is unjust and not the will of God but in his dying he is “making up for what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ” Colossians 1:24. The Church has a specific and complex teaching on this which I believe and extend to the idea that a dying child’s sufferings join with Christ’s sufferings on the cross and so, in a mysterious way, bring about the salvation of mankind. That little child, in union with Christ, saves me. And all I can do in response is fall before God and weep in sorrow and in joy in the knowledge that His love for me is too vast to fathom and that He gathers all the little children to Himself. And we are all His little children, stumbling along on this earthly pilgrimage.

So I can’t explain why there is suffering, but I can say that I believe that God can take our suffering and transform it, even when it seems utterly and completely hopeless.

Even when it is the end and it is not alright, God will always have the last word. Not suffering and not death.

Wood engraving Crucifixion of Jesus 1866 by Gustave Doré.

Crucifixion of Jesus 1866 by Gustave Doré.

“Set your troubled hearts at rest. Trust in God always; trust also in me. There are many dwelling places in my Father’s house; if it were not so I should not have told you; for I am going to prepare a place for you.”
Jesus:
Speaking to his disciples soon before his crucifixion.

Who Needs to be Saved? Part 1: Certainty and the Nature of God

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Lately I’ve been asking myself a lot of hard questions. I’ve also been trying to teach myself long multiplication because my mathematical abilities are atrocious but that’s another story.

I’ve been wondering about the Christian concept of “Salvation”. What is that? Why do we need it? Is it fair? Is it unfair? You know, the usual queries. I won’t address that specifically in this post but I will lay down the groundwork.

I am someone who craves certainty. This probably says something about me… Perhaps that I am insecure. Because if I wasn’t insecure, I would have no issue with uncertainty (I’ll try elaborate on this a little later)

And so I find myself asking, “How do I know that what I believe is true? How can I be sure?”
It is difficult to find valid evidence to support my beliefs. I cannot rely on spiritual experiences, weird coincidences or other people’s testimonies as they are personal and relative experiences. So as pieces of evidence, for me, I find myself torn as to what to think.

This, some will say, is a lack of faith. Maybe so. Or maybe it is a deepening search for authentic faith. Either way, it means I examine the very core of what I believe and I have to be brutally honest with myself, which can be scary.

Ultimately though, as someone wise once told me, the only thing we can be certain of is that nothing is certain. It is a scary step to admit this as it makes me vulnerable. I personally feel that sometimes when people aggressively hold onto their beliefs and are uncompromising, it is because deep down they are afraid they might be wrong. I am like that often. Hence, being okay with uncertainty brings a peace and removes the fear of being proved wrong. Because, yes, I could be wrong! As I write I realise that this is all very reminiscent of Alan Watts, who I love but don’t agree with on a couple of key points. (digression)

But, I still search for certainty, I haven’t reached that Buddhist/Wattsian level of detachment and so, in order to try and understand what I believe, I try and strip down my beliefs to their essentials. In my search I usually start at, well, the start.  Here I ask the cosmic void, who are you? Who caused this?

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. – Ancient Creation Text by Moses… potentially… but probably a whole host of anonymous authors.

Table Mountain from Somerset West

So, I weigh the evidence and rationalise that something can’t just appear from nothing (and not the scientific version of nothing, which is actually something but as in nothing… which we can’t even imagine because you can’t imagine nothing. So stop trying to. Or you could look at my bank balance, that might come close) and I conclude that something must have caused all of this. It had to be a creative force, beyond human understanding.

In having determined that their must be some kind of Divine Being or God, I then have to decide  who I believe this God to be. Here it is up to me to look at the various Faith traditions and the world around me to determine what I believe about God. This is where being objective becomes particularly difficult as I am inevitably influenced by my cultural upbringing and environment.  That being said,my view of God is that He is a loving, creative being who is actively involved in His creation and who reveals Himself through people, sacred tradition, sacred scripture and ultimately in Jesus Christ.

Now you might ask, given the fact that I said earlier that I crave certainty, how I can jump to such specific conclusions when I am not able to logically work out why I believe them?
Great question! I don’t know either. Except to give the trite and unsatisfying answer that I just do.
I speak about this a bit in some of my other posts about God and Jesus.

Suffice to say, I cannot be certain and I find it very hard. But if there is a God, and He created me, do I not belong to Him? Do I not owe Him everything I have because it is His anyway? And if He placed me on this beautiful earth, surely there must be a purpose for that too?

One thing that I has been growing in my heart over the years is the realisation that Love is the most important aspect of my life and faith. If I can truly love, in a self sacrificing way, wanting the best for others, then I am taking steps in the right direction. And if that is what I desire, can I assume the same and more about the Being that created me?

There are questions, but God is in the questions.

All this I have put to the test of wisdom. I said, ‘I am resolved to be wise,’ but wisdom was beyond my reach – whatever has happened lies out of reach, deep down, deeper than anyone can fathom. Koheleth (Ecclesiastes) – circa 3rd Century BC

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Our Sleeping God

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Sleep. I miss it.

The last few days of work have destroyed me and I am not quite sure how I am actually managing to type these words out right now. In fact, I may even be dreaming and I will probably wake up to find my renders haven’t worked and that I should have uploaded the final videos 2 hours ago.

This sort of pressure isn’t particularly good for me, seeing that my last episode of severe OCD was triggered by a similar situation of extreme stress.

At the moment I am experiencing life through a thin veil. That’s partly my low mood and partly the medication I am on. I feel like I have emotionally flat lined.
It is a strange sensation and I am choosing during this time, to drift through my days, distracting myself with music and work. I am turning away from the storm. But the storm still rages nonetheless. I don’t see my distracted behaviour as a bad thing. In fact, it may be what I need to get through this difficult time I am in.

There is a passage in the Gospel of Matthew that has always resonated with me. It resonates with many people I think but it has been recurring in my life over the last few months and perhaps there is something to read in that.

Chapter 8 verses 23 to 27. Jesus calms the storm. Now most people are very familiar with this story but for anybody who isn’t, the gist of it is that Jesus and his disciples decide to jump in their boat and cross the Sea of Galilee. A big storm picks up and it gets real. Jesus is fast asleep in the stern and is clearly a remarkably deep sleeper. The disciples freak out and wake up Jesus. Jesus, probably grumpy from being woken up so abruptly, tells them, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?”

And then He calms the storm.

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Now obviously there are clear, underlying (is that an oxymoron?) metaphors in this story. The storm being the troubles in our life. Jesus asleep being the seeming absence of God in those troubled times.

But how true those metaphors ring!

Matthew says the storm came up “suddenly”. In my first month living in London last year, I went to a drop in prayer session at Mount Street Jesuit Centre and this was the reading used. I commented on the way the storm suddenly came up, and said so often in our lives we don’t see the storms coming. How ironic that a few months later my storm did just that. When I returned to South Africa in December to recover, that reading resurfaced when I was at Mass. I heard the words, “and there was a great calm.”

How I long for that calm. How I want to shake Jesus as the disciples do in Mark’s version of the story and say “Wake up Lord! Don’t you care if I drown?”

Perhaps He will wake up and say, “Why were you afraid, you of little faith?”

But I am afraid. And I am afraid because I can’t trust You enough. Even though I long to.
…The calm will come…

God does seem to be asleep at times. But I notice how He is in the boat right there with the disciples, and His sleep is indicative of God’s unchanging nature; He is that peaceful presence in dark times.

A good friend sent me a compass recently. In the letter it came in he wrote “don’t ever lose sight of your true north which is Christ – with Him sometimes silently asleep in your boat you’re bent on adventure whether you like it or not. This compass ain’t gonna scream at you if you go the wrong way but it will always be a silent guide when you enquire of it. Do so of Christ often.”

And so I suppose I am asking for that direction now as I drift over tumultuous seas, clinging to the mast, the Cross, as God sleeps in the stern. And to all of you silent readers, I ask for your prayers, that I might not be afraid, that I might have faith.