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Calming the Sea/Crossing Over

Matthew 14:22-33

Today’s story of walking on water comes immediately after the hectic day that had ended with the feeding of the 5,000. If you were here last week, you’ll remember that that day began with word of the death of John the Baptist. Herod,had John beheaded. John was a powerful leader of a movement that called people to return to God and prepare for God’s kingdom, God, way, that was at hand.

Jesus had tried to find some space apart, perhaps to grieve in private, perhaps to sort out next steps. What do we do, now that Rome has killed John?

You will remember that in the face of this violence, and the fear of scarcity, Jesus enacted an alternate way of being. He gathered community, he healed, he showed compassion, he fed the hungry people with food for the body and for their wounded frightened souls.

At eventide, he sends his disciples back across the lake and he goes to a quiet place to finally have some prayer time, some intimate space with God, and with himself.

And then comes the story we read today…A fierce wind blows up, high waves toss the boat about. The disciples are struggling to make headway back to the other side of the lake, and the story is that they see Jesus coming to them walking on water. His first words are “Take heart! It is I, Do not be afraid.” Peter says “If it is you Lord, ask me to come to you over the water.” Jesus says to him “Come.” At first Peter is fine, but then he begins to fear, and starts to sink. “Save me Lord” he cries out in panic, and Jesus reaches out his hand to lift him up and together they climb into the boat and the winds cease.

Why did the early church tell this story? why did they tell it over and over again, so much so that it was remembered and written down to be included in Matthew’s gospel, and similar stories in other gospels? I suspect it had little to do with the kind of modern western concern with whether Jesus really walked on water; and a whole lot more to do with the reality of their precarious, storm filled lives; as they felt the chaos of the Jewish war, when the Romans decimated Jerusalem and much of the country. My guess is the message is pretty clearly, “if you’re trying to travel without Jesus, forget it! You need Jesus in the boat with you. It’s the only way.”

It seems to me a message that when you’re out trying to make headway in the midst of chaos, Jesus will come to you. And like Peter, when you dare to, Jesus will invite you to step out of the boat, and encourage you, and support you when you falter and are afraid. Jesus will lift you up and bring you safely to shore. A powerful message for that early church living in terrifying times.

The experience happens in a crossing-over time; a time and place of transition. It happens in an evening time, as dark approaches. It happens after a day of profound teaching, and after a time of deep loss. It happens after Jesus has enacted kingdom in the face of Roman oppression and the violence of John’s death. ….Food in abundance in the midst of scarcity, compassion in the midst of a callous violent world, community in the face of fear. It happens in the extremity of fear and panic and uncertainty. It happens when the disciples are feeling abandoned by God.

These are seasons of the soul that most people can identify with. We’ve all been in places where we have felt that the winds of change were going to overpower us; when we have felt that we were going under; where we have felt abandoned by God, or by those close to us. We’ve also been in places where we have needed another to still us with assurance that we will be all right and that the storms of our lives will indeed be stilled.

As we enter this passage in meditation I invite you to be in touch, if you are able with a time when you found yourself in a place of transition; in a place of crossing over; in a place where one time is ending and another not yet begun? And then to remember….Have you ever had a time when you felt you were going under? when it felt as if the storm around you was going to swallow you up? when the winds of change blew so strong that they almost capsized you?

Have you ever had the time when you’ve stepped out into deep waters and become fearful? Have you had the experience of being lifted up by someone, when you were afraid you were going under? And then Have you ever had an experience of one who said “Peace! Be Still! Don’t be afraid: in such a way that it had the power and authority to calm the storm you were going through?

Meditation:

Close your eyes … Become aware of this body-self that is you, as you come to meditation today … Focus on your breath … Notice the pattern of your breathing … as it moves in … as it move out … Follow your breath in … Follow your breath out … Notice how fast are you breathing … Notice whether you are breathing deeply or shallowly … Notice where your body moves when you breathe … Is the movement in your chest … or in your belly? …

Watch your breathing for a few minutes … notice any changes that occur … You may find that just attending to your breath will allow you to relax … As you focus and breathe let your breaths become slower and deeper … Let your body relax and move to a place of peace …

Notice where your body is sore or tense … Imagine the breath moving to that place … and gently massaging the tightened knots of tension … or fear … or anger … or stress … Simply allow the breath to open up your body … so that your life energy can flow freely … You are preparing yourself for prayer.

As you focus on your breathing … you may notice thoughts coming and going … Just notice the thoughts … and then let them go … You may want to imagine them as clouds floating across the horizon … or have some other image that allows you to let them go … As thoughts arise … gently return your focus to your breath.

Notice the inner space that is being prepared and opened up inside you … space for the sacred presence to find room … Space for the holy one to be with you …Your own sacred space … your own holy ground …

Ask God to bless this meditation journey and to use it for your highest good of mind … body … and spirit …

In that place I invite you to imagine yourself beside a large lake or sea … standing on the shore … Notice the smell of the sea … the colours of the water … of the sky … of the boats … Notice the sun beginning to set in the west and the sense that you need to leave this place in order to to cross over to the other side … Allow yourself to feel the invitation to leave one way of being … to let go … and to enter a journey of transition … of call to be in another place… Notice if the Spirit wants to offer you that invitation for your own life …

Imagine getting in to a small boat leaving Christ on the mountain praying … The sunset deepens and sinks behind the horizon … and darkness begins to fall.

Suddenly there is a large wind that is very frightening … a storm seems to come from no where … There is chaos … life is turned upside down … you feel as if you might go under … It is a frightening time … and you begin to wonder where Christ is … You feel abandoned by Christ … you begin to feel Christ does not even care about the danger you are in …
And then you notice a presence coming toward you on the waves … uncertain who or what it is … But the presence speaks … “Take heart; it is I … I am here … Don’t be afraid” …

Christ looks with deep compassion at you … and speaks to the storm … and to you saying … Peace … Be still … Peace … Be still … Peace…Be still … He gets into the boat … and the storm begins to subside … and the winds that threaten become calm … and the waves that seemed to engulf you become still … and the chaos inside you becomes more tranquil … the fear subsides … the angry blaming calms down … your anxiety is replaced by a sense of deep peace … and centredness … a coming home to your deep truth … where you know yourself to be connected with the Source of all that is … Let the Christ speak to the storms and the chaos that are part of your life …Take Heart … I am with you … Don’t be afraid … Peace … be still… Peace … be still … Peace … be still … Is there any other message the Spirit would like to speak into your places of transition … your places of chaos and fear?

(long silence)

Gradually and gently draw yourself from this place … knowing that you can return here whenever you wish … Draw yourself from the meditation scene … and gradually connect with this body self that is you right now … Make some gentle movements with your fingers and toes … some movements with your neck … Begin to notice your breath … againthis breath that has been breathing you all the time you have been meditating … even if you have not paid attention to it … As you are ready … open your eyes.

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