Sunday, August 7, 2011

Sinking Feeling

I'm taking my own advice and heading out tomorrow morning for Québec City with a couple of priest friends. We'll be back on Friday. Who knows? Maybe I'll even have a few updates for you during the week...

Wherever you are, wherever you're headed: take some time to be still.

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

Tommy had long heard the story
that his father, his grandfather, and even his great-grandfather
had all been able to walk on water on their twenty-first birthdays.
So on the day he turned twenty-one,
he decided that if they could do it, so could he.
Setting out in a boat with a friend,
Tommy reaches the middle of the lake,
steps out onto the water…and nearly drowns.
Hauled gasping back to shore,
the young man asks his grandmother
why he apparently hasn’t been given the family gift.
“Oh Tommy,” she answered, “that’s because
your father, your grandfather, and your great-grandfather
were all born in February—not August, like you.”

(That’s a joke which really only works in the North Country!)

Fatigued.  Frustrated.  Fearful.
We find men of all three descriptions
in our readings this Sunday.

The prophet Elijah has fought hard on the Lord’s behalf,
trying to win back the hearts of the Israelites
who have turned to follow their own way.
And what has it earned him?
A death threat from a jealous queen,
and a severe case of burnout.
Running for his life, Elijah is exhausted.

The apostle Paul would do just about anything
to see his kinfolk accept Jesus as the Messiah.
And he’s tried everything he can think of.
How could this people—
which has enjoyed God’s favor for so long—
not recognize the greatest blessing of them all?
Running out of ideas—and hope—
Paul is discouraged.

Peter had been following Jesus long enough
to realize that this was no ordinary man.
How did he speak with such wisdom? 
How did he heal the sick?
How did he feed thousands with so very little?
Now he’s even walking on the sea.
All this evidence…but could he really trust Jesus?
Doubting himself as much as anything,
Peter gets frightened—and he starts to sink.

Fatigued.  Frustrated.  Fearful.
Prophets and apostles do not have a corner on this market.
We, too, are rather familiar with all three…
…though the causes may be different.
Maybe it’s the troubled economy:
worried about keeping our job;
worried about our retirement.
Maybe it’s a troubled relationship
with a child or spouse or coworker or friend.
Maybe it’s troubled health—
our own or that of someone we love.
Maybe it’s one of countless other possible troubles.
We get tired.  We get down.  We get anxious.

But while the causes may be very different,
the cure is always exactly the same.

Ours is a rather noisy world:
ringing cell phones, thumping music,
blaring TVs, rumbling traffic.
(Not to mention—this week—
all the sounds of the Franklin County Fair!)
And then there’s that inner noise
of everything which races through our minds
and agitates our hearts.
We need—every now and again—
to leave this rattle and racket behind and find some real calm.
We take our cue from Jesus
who—as we’re told in the gospel—
“went up on the mountain by himself to pray.”
We need the quiet of this hour at Mass each week.
We need the quiet of time set aside for prayer each day.
And sometimes we need an additional dose:
a mini-retreat or a long vacation;
a walk in the woods or a porch-view of the sunset.
Only if we make the needed effort to break away
can we find the peace which Elijah knew
when he recognized the Lord present
not in driving wind or quaking earth or raging fire,
but in a tiny whisper—in the stillness of silence.
Only if we carve out for ourselves
moments where we’re at rest with the Lord
can we find the serenity which Peter knew
when he stopped looking down at the choppy seas beneath his feet
and instead looked up into the loving face
of the only one who could save him.

Fatigued.  Frustrated.  Fearful.
We’ve all been there.
But the peace which is God’s answer to these
is not a gift limited to only certain members of the family.
To each one of us, Jesus says, “Come,”
and stretches out his strong hand.
He’s there to lift us up and help us walk through the storm.
No, Jesus doesn’t always make all our troubles go away…
…but Jesus always provides us with the strength to face them
as we realize we never have to face them alone.

So find some quiet.  Seek out some calm.  Sit still.
And there hear the Son of God saying to you,
“Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”

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