With You in the Storms

The rule of thirds and negative space.

It seems everywhere I’ve looked in the last 24 hours, there have been reminders of storms.

But in each storm, God has been present to still and overcome them with his mere presence or a word.

For example, last night I recorded a lectio divina exercise for a small group of friends, and the passage selected for the exercise was taken from Matthew 14. This is the passage where Jesus walks on the water and then invites Peter to walk on the water, too.

Did you know that in that story, Jesus came walking on the water in the midst of a great storm? The passage says that it was an evening when the disciples were being “battered by the waves.” Also, when Peter walked out on the water to Jesus, it was a glance at “the waves churning beneath his feet” that made him lose his nerve and start to sink. 

Jesus reached out a hand to keep Peter from sinking further into the tumultuous ocean. And once he and Peter climbed back in the boat, the ocean became as still as glass. 

Here’s another example. Later in the evening, Kirk and I listened to the daily Pray as You Go podcast, which we like to do together as a devotional way to end the day. The sacred music selection for this weekend’s recording held the following words: 

Calm me, Lord, as you calm the storm

Still me, Lord, keep me from harm

Let all the tumult within me cease

Enfold me, Lord, in your peace 

And the Gospel reading for the podcast was yet another storm-related story — that of Jesus being asleep on a boat while a great storm came and assailed it on all sides. Here is another place where Jesus, once woken by the disciples in their fear, spoke a single word to the storm and made it calm. 

And then this morning, the psalms offered yet another encouragement concerning the presence of storms: 

Sea storms are up, God

Sea storms wild and roaring,

Sea storms with thunderous breakers.

Stronger than wild sea storms,

Mightier than sea-storm breakers,

Mighty God rules from High Heaven.

— Psalm 93:3-4

Our God is mightier than the storms. Though the storms may rage around us, turning us toward fear, the presence of God and a mere word from his lips is enough to slay them and bring back calm.

What storms do you face in life today? In what ways are you assailed and battered by waves? How does the near presence of Jesus or a mere word from his lips bring the size of the waves down to mere calm?  

Journey Toward Nonviolence 3: Facing the Reality of Danger

I remember the moment I realized this journey could lead me to jail. 

I was sitting in a session led by Tony Campolo during the January residency of my graduate program earlier this year in Philadelphia. He was talking about having been arrested several times and how frequently he encounters people who reject him for this. They often point to the Bible and say we are to be subject to the ruling authorities. 

This is true, he said. But we can be subject to the ruling authorities in one of two ways. 

First, we can obey them.

Second, we can resist but surrender to the consequences imposed as a result. 

He reminded us that Martin Luther King was arrested several times. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, too, was arrested for vocalizing opposition to Hitler and eventually executed because of it. Even Paul wrote most of his letters to the churches from the confines of a jail cell.

I was startled by this notion. Was there anything I would deem worthy of arrest? Was I willing to count any person or cause more important than my own criminal record?

I tried to imagine a future forever dotted with ticking the “yes” box on any application that asks if I have ever been arrested. It was, I confess, hard to imagine.

That was the first but not the last time I faced the reality of danger along this nonviolent and peacemaking path. A couple months later, I wrote this:

For the past month and a half, I have been (slowly) making my way through John Dear’s A Persistent Peace …

Now I am in the middle of his book, and it feels exactly like being in the thick of things. He has identified his core solidarities: the Salvadorans and the nuclear arms race.

And here, in the thick of these causes, my heart becomes heavy. So many protests, so many arrests, so much danger, so much hostility, hatred, and violence. Sometimes he and his comrades take actions that seem a bit extreme to me. Sometimes it feels like it is all too big and beyond hope. There are so many deaths and martyrdoms.

— 6 March 2009, My Year with Gandhi Journal

Those whose lives I chose to study this year carved paths of love on behalf of causes for which they’d been willing to sacrifice everything. For John Dear, it became the nuclear arms race. For Martin Luther King, it was the civil rights movement. For Gandhi, it was the freedom and dignity of his Indian brothers and sisters. For Dorothy Day, it was pacifism and the homeless persons of Brooklyn. For Mother Teresa, it was the poorest of the poor in Calcutta. For Jesus, it was all of us.

These suffered arrest. Rejection. Violence. Poverty. Starvation. Death. For what cause would I be willing to do the same?

What about you: Is there any person, cause, or conviction for which you would be willing to suffer violence, arrest, or even death?

Journey Toward Nonviolence 1: Encountering Our Fear of "The Other"

The first journal entry I wrote this year in my commitment to studying nonviolence and peacemaking was like a moment of declaration. Scribbled hastily into a travel-sized Moleskine notebook on a plane ride back from Philadelphia — I’d just devoured the first few chapters of John Dear’s book A Persistent Peace — it was a moment of looking back at so many inherent beliefs or fears or prejudices that I have carried at different times in my life and beginning to defiantly say, “No more.”

Here’s what I wrote:

In my life, I’ve often encountered a deep fear and suspicion of “the other” — people who are different, theologies that are liberal, interpretations of history that are radical and subversive because they bring to light the darker sides of those people and stories we’ve always heralded. 

Now I find myself asking: on what basis, this fear? 

On what basis, this suspicion and emboldened rejection? 

If Jesus is real, then God is for all people.

— 18 January 2009, My Year with Gandhi Journal

For instance, I remember taking an AP Prep course for US History in tenth grade. The instructor gave us Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States as a core text for the class.

It was the first time I learned that the first settlers didn’t necessarily treat well the Native American people who were living here before they arrived. In fact, it was the first time I ever thought about how the experience might have been for the Native Americans at all. 

Those are the kind of moments I was remembering when I wrote that first journal entry.

What about you: Can you recall a moment when you faced an inherent fear or suspicion of “the other” in your life?