Who Calms Our Storms?
June 24, 2018 – 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time
“The wind ran out of breath and the sea became smooth as glass.” The Biblical writers were certainly great story tellers. In the first reading Job speaks about balance and harmony in nature, in creation. As we learn from the sciences, the earth is a delicate balance of the right amount of oxygen and water and all the elements needed to sustain and maintain life. Native American spirituality was keenly aware of this very delicate balance and the need to live sustainably, in harmony with the earth. The “prayer” of Chief Seattle speaks eloquently of this harmony. “Mankind has not woven the web of life, we are but a thread of it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together, all things connect.”
Mark’s Gospel departs from this sense of harmony and balance as Jesus and his disciples get into a boat to travel over water to the other side. They set out on the water and Jesus falls asleep. Just then a terrific storm overtakes them and threatens to capsize their boat and possibly drown them all. The disciples become frantic and wake Jesus up to plead with him to save them. After rebuking them for their lack of faith, he commands the wind to be “quiet” and the sea to “settle down”. Mark tells us that the wind ran out of breath and the sea became smooth as glass. What metaphors. But, what are we to make of this amazing feat? Does Jesus have the power to intervene and control the forces of nature? So, how come Jesus doesn’t quiet the winds and calm the waters of hurricanes, or typhoons or tornadoes?
Perhaps we are taking the notion of storms too literally. Some storms are internal, personal. Some storms involve anxiety, fear, agitation, depression, guilt, shame, grief, obsessive thinking, compulsive behaviors, illness, debility, both physical and mental. Some internal storms lead people to feel not good enough or even suicidal or wonder how will they go on, how will they cope? When such storms erupt, who will help us, rescue us, quiet the storm and restore us to calm? For me, as I think back on critical moments of my life when storms were raging inside, it was always someone who came into my life who helped me calm the storm.
I recall one particularly fierce storm that raged within. It started out very slowly, but, over the years, it gradually built up into quite a tempest. I was 19, in my sophomore year at Maryknoll College Seminary in Illinois. For many years I had had this small voice inside my head telling me that I was different, there was something about me that wasn’t like other boys. I seemed to be more attracted to men than to women. The word that described this condition was homosexuality, a word that even sounded ominous and foreboding. As a matter of fact, at that time (1965) it was considered a mental disorder, complete with proscribed treatment modalities. The word gay and the notion of pride would come later. At first, I didn’t pay any attention to these thoughts and feelings. I ignored them. I guess you could say I was in denial. But as my adolescence progressed, the voice kept getting louder. But I was going to be a priest which meant a life of celibacy so perhaps it wouldn’t matter. Well at least that’s what I told myself.
My denial could only last so long. Eventually, these feelings became so strong that they seemed to overtake my life and leave me in a very dark place. I had never shared these feelings with anyone. I had never spoken the words. I had never “come out”. The message I gleaned from society at large and the Church in particular, was that this was a perversion, this was a taboo subject. It got to the point where I felt I could no longer continue on this path. I had to do something, but I didn’t know what to do. And then it came to me, I had to tell someone, to unburden myself of what seemed like a dark and shameful secret. My roommate at the time was Frank who was also from NJ – Bergenfield. I mustered all the courage I could and told him one evening not knowing what to expect but knowing that I could no longer keep this secret bottled up inside me.
What I experienced was one of the transformational moments of my life. Frank listened, he empathized, he was compassionate and kind. He told me that I was his friend and that did not change in the least by what I had told him. I was his friend and he loved me and as far as he was concerned there was no reason to feel shame or embarrassment. I had experienced the Divine at work putting Frank in my life just when I needed him most. The coming out process remained difficult and challenging but it was never as difficult as before I came out to Frank. Frank remains to this day one of my very best and closest friends.
At other critical moments in my life it has been people who have helped me calm the internal storms that were raging. It was Manus when I was feeling overwhelmed by orientation to service in the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone. It was Joan when I returned home and began teaching in a Junior High School, in the midst of a worse culture shock than I had experienced going to West Africa 2 years before. And for the past 27 wonderful years it has been George, my spouse. What I began to realize was that it was the Divine that was quieting my storms by seemingly putting people in my life when I needed them most. I was blessed by the Divine and have come to realize that the Divine is within us and around us, always yearning for us to both experience and express kindness and compassion and love. And this kindness and compassion and love has the power to, as Jesus does so dramatically in this week’s Gospel, calm the storms that rage within.
And what about those big, external storms, the hurricanes, fires, floods, mud slides, tornados, crashes? Where is the Divine when they occur? Why does the Divine let them occur? I think perhaps that’s the wrong question to ask. What I believe is that the Divine is not in the event, in the storm, in the disaster. Look for the Divine in the response to the storm. So, the firefighters, police officers, first responders, EMTs, Paramedics, ER personnel, National Guard, FEMA workers, Red Cross volunteers acting with skill and training but also with empathy, kindness, compassion and love are reflecting the inspiration of the divine and bringing the Kindom of God here on earth. They are calming the storm.
So, who or what calms your storms?