Getting our feet wet?

Published on 15 Aug 2014

As an exiled Glaswegian, I was delighted with the success of the Commonwealth Games. The event drew something out of the hosting city that was unique.  It drew out its spirit, a well-kept secret apparently. As Christians, the spirit which gives us life is the breath of God. We ourselves live out of that breath, and the Spirit shapes our rough-hewn words which connect us with God. The Spirit allows us to inspire communities of people. The thirst that people have for connection invites the spirit-filled person to risk connecting. I am sure something like that was happening during those days.

But it is also happening all the time. How often do we have an encounter with someone, and afterwards we say to ourselves, that must have been meant?  How did I get to that place to meet that person at the precise moment I needed some help, some reassurance, some breathing space, a lungful of air for the next effort. In last Sunday’s readings, we meet Elijah and Peter in such like circumstances. Elijah has run away in fear of his life, but is given food for the journey to enable him to reach the cave at Mount Horeb, where God asks him ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ Elijah’s answer is defensive and self-justifying.  Of all the prophets of God, I’m the only faithful one left and they are after me. He then has an experience of God, who is not in the storm, the earthquake or the fire, but in the still small voice.  Elijah creeps to the cave entrance, holding his mantle as a badge of his identity as a prophet. God asks him again ‘What are you doing here Elijah?’  Elijah gives exactly the same answer as before. Of all the prophets of God, I’m the only faithful one left and they are after me.  After this tremendous experience, Elijah seems to have made no move to re-imagine his situation.  Whereas God has done some re-imagining.  The characteristics of the Sinai experience of Moses, storm, earthquake and fire, are not now the places to look for God.  God is in the gentle voice. But although Elijah has made no move, still God recreates his future as a prophet of courage who will pass on his mantle to Elisha. God’s word which Elijah had more or less pronounced dead is alive and active.

In the Gospel of Matthew, we see the disciples in the eye of the storm without Jesus. I don’t know about you, but in a storm in a boat, you can feel totally helpless. I remember fervently saying my prayers in a boat on the Atlantic off South America.  It only lasted twenty minutes!  For Peter and the disciples, the sea is the place of chaos. Remember all those psalms where people feel they are being dragged down by clinging plants on the bottom. Psalm 69 expresses very well the feelings of Peter and the other disciples:

Save me, God, for the waters have closed in on my very being.  2 I am sinking in the deepest swamp and there is no firm ground. I have stepped into deep water and the waves are washing over me.( Psalm 69:1-2)

Jesus calls out to them, to have courage, don’t be afraid. Jesus is now with them, at a distance to be sure, but with them. Why are they afraid? Because they are imagining the worst. Take a deep breath, imagine a better future with a sense that Jesus will be there even in the worst times. Peter, typically, wants the kind of guarantees that we all want from time to time. At a moment, there is a failure of the capacity of his imagination to see that he can overcome the alien and hostile environment that he is in. But even in that doubt Jesus is with him. Could that big strong fisherman have imagined the relief of being held in the arms of Jesus.  And Jesus could not have been that far away.  As soon as Peter starts to sink, Jesus is only an arm’s length away. Like Elijah there is more for Peter to do. One other thing that struck me that connects passages about Elijah and Peter is the still small voice. Can you hear it in the Peter story?  When Peter says ‘Lord if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.’  Jesus replies gently ‘Come’. Even if Peter gets it all wrong, the gentle and generous word is there, hanging in the air. I remember another time when Peter didn’t want to get his feet wet.   At the Last Supper, at the washing of the feet, Jesus acts out his invitation to ‘make your home in me as I make mine in you’. Jesus, who draws the best out of our humanity, draws us into taking the risk of meeting him where he really is.  Something beyond even Glaswegian hospitality perhaps, but nevertheless something that we glimpse in every genuine act of hospitality that gives others room to breathe.

 

James Crampsey SJ