I may have already mentioned – in some past blog posting – that I do my spiritual reading at the breakfast table each morning. I have a basket by my chair that is overflowing (literally) with back issues of the Christian Century, and books of poetry, autobiographies, and spiritual meditations. Currently, I’m making my way through James Martin’s more than 500-page tome titled Jesus: A Pilgrimage. I may have already mentioned – in some past blog posting – that I do my spiritual reading at the breakfast table each morning. I have a basket by my chair that is overflowing (literally) with back issues of the Christian Century, and books of poetry, autobiographies, and spiritual meditations. Currently, I’m making my way through James Martin’s more than 500-page tome titled Jesus: A Pilgrimage.
You may have heard of James Martin. He’s a Jesuit, one of the editors for the Catholic magazine America, and a very popular writer of books on various spiritual subjects. I’ve read most of his work, and have drawn from his My Life with the Saints and A Jesuit Off-Broadway in sermons at St. John’s. Further, James and I have known each other through an occasional e-mail since my Imagination and the Journey of Faith came out in 2008. I like his writing.
Getting back to my current reading, this past week I read James’ chapter titled “Storms” – concerned with Jesus’ miraculous power over nature as described across the four Gospels. As part of that discussion, James cites the passage in Matthew (15:22-33). To recall the scene: Jesus has sent his disciples on ahead of him by boat and he, himself, has withdrawn to a nearby mountain to pray. It is now night and a sudden storm blows up on the lake. Jesus senses that Peter and whoever else is with him in the boat is in trouble. Very early the next morning (perhaps before daylight?), Jesus appears to his disciples as he walks toward them on the water. Imagining that he is a ghostly apparition, Peter and the others are absolutely terrified! But then Jesus speaks to them, saying, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Then Peter – bless his heart as always – yells out, “If it’s you, command me to come to you on the water.” So Jesus answers simply, “Come.” Peter starts out of the boat but then becomes afraid as he steps into the scary unknown, crying out, “Lord, save me!” So Jesus reaches out, grabs hold of him, and chides him a bit for not having faith enough to see his action through. And as soon as the two of them step into the boat, the storm ceases.
OK, that’s the scene. Familiar probably to most of you, churchgoers or not. But what does James Martin make of this miracle scene? How does he apply it to our lives today since few of us fish on seas whipped up by thunderstorms? Well, I was quite moved by what he wrote and so want to share it with you because it’s also spot-on in terms of my own life.
James sees that Jesus not only warns against our fears in this passage, but he also offers something else in desperate shortage today: Calm. As he points out, how much of our daily lives can be characterized as “overworked, overbooked, overwhelmed, stressed-out, crazy-busy, nuts” – having little time for family or friends, little time to even think. But our culture assures us that the busier we are, the more important we must be; the harder I work, the more I count for something in the world’s eyes. And of course, with technologies like e-mails and cell phones and texting options, we are never, ever “off” clock.
So James asks, “What would happen if we weren’t overbooked? What would our lives be like with a little more peace in them?” I think if we are honest with ourselves, deep down we long for some quiet, some peace, some time to think … and pray. So he suggests that maybe we should look around and see what can be jettisoned in our daily lives. We can look around and decide to take a few days off in the mountains (which I’m about to do tomorrow, by the way), just to hike and rest and think for a while. James says:
Not everyone can jettison tasks in this way. A new mother or father cannot simply stop rising in the “fourth watch of the night” to change a squalling infant … but most of us know that there are some unnecessary things that prevent us from living more contemplatively, extraneous tasks and events and dates and appointments and things that can be thrown overboard. Do you have to make everyone happy by agreeing to every request? Must you say yes to something else you cannot possibly do – on the job, at your children’s school, or in your family? Aren’t there a few things that you can drop overboard? … Can you hear Jesus inviting you to more calm in your stormy life? Even Jesus needed to take time alone to pray. (p. 238)
Someone said to me once, “Yesterday is a memory; tomorrow a hope. You’ve got today. Don’t ruin it!” Make a place for some peace in your daily life.
James concludes this section reminding me … reminding you … that in this passage, Jesus guides you away from fear, calling to you, as he did to the disciples, inviting you onto the calm waters of life. James says listen to him. He says to you, “Come.”
And let it be so. I wish you a peace-filled 2015.