Harrowing Of Hell
June 24, 2012

Blessing in the Storm

Preacher: The Rev Kate Wesch

In the name of God; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

In a world of specialties and advanced degrees,
it’s easy to defer to the “experts” on all manner of topics –
from medicine to child rearing, to public safety and technology.
Why, just this past week,
I heard a story on NPR about the two people
killed by grizzly bears last year at Yellowstone National Park.
After 25 years incident free,
it seems people have become complacent about the bears.

According to the report,
“Park officials say visitors sometimes take safety for granted,
in part because they’re used to visiting zoos and amusement parks,
where nature is much, much more controlled.
So Yellowstone is trying to get the word out about bear safety.”

Yellowstone spokesperson, Al Nash warns,
“I fear that some visitors believe that if things were dangerous,
we, the National Park Service, would somehow control it.
That’s not the case.”

In our modern era of liability clauses, release forms, and litigation;
taking responsibility for one’s own actions is becoming more and more rare.
But, perhaps this isn’t a modern day problem.

Today’s gospel text depicts the disciples out on the water with Jesus
in the midst of a violent windstorm.
Jesus has tucked himself out of the way to try and get some rest
while the disciples, the FISHERMEN, are panicking.
Shouldn’t they be used to this sort of thing?
They ARE the experts for crying out loud.
So, why don’t they just handle the situation?
It’s like they throw up their hands in alarm and
project all their feelings of fear and insecurity on Jesus –
expecting him to take care of it.

In this situation, the disciples experience Jesus as their teacher,
not their companion, and in projecting onto him concern
for their own well-being and survival,
they lose the inner resources to deal with the storm themselves.

I have felt the same way as a new mother.
In situations where I am surrounded by more-experienced parents and caregivers,
I have felt self-conscious of my interactions with my child,
afraid to make a mistake,
and worried about being judged by an “expert.”
It sounds silly, but it must be human nature,
this desire to defer to another’s authority.

I imagine this human insecurity comes from a place of fear.
It comes from a place of doubt and anxiety.
All of these words are so common in modern parlance.
On Google’s website, you can look up “search trends.”
Out of curiosity, I looked up the words: stress, anxiety, and fear.

The results are fascinating.
For the words, “anxiety” and “fear,” Americans lead the way
for most number of google searches including those words.
For “stress,” the US is a distant 6th place,
while South Africa, the Philippines, Malaysia, Australia, and Canada take the lead.
Searches on the word “anxiety” are quite high, especially in Seattle.

This data tells me that we are a society fueled not only by our coffee,
but also by anxiety and fear.
Incidentally, Seattleites search for “coffee”
much more than any of these other words,
in case you were curious.

Fear and anxiety interrupt our lives when we neglect our souls
It is the daily things that wear us down, slowly, over time.
It’s the commuting, the dishes, the grocery shopping,
balancing work, family, and friends.
It’s family dynamics when your in-laws are in town,
or the relentless 24/7 pace of technology.

Pieter Drummond leads meditation in the chapel two mornings a week
and he frequently addresses these issues – in his calm, indirect way. Meditation,
this mindful returning over and over again to simplicity of thought
goes with us when we leave and return to the world.
Meditation is a discipline,
a practice that is always there waiting for us when we choose to engage.

To be truthful, it is something with which I struggle.
The disciplines of daily prayer and meditation are things I must schedule
into my day like walking the dog or flossing my teeth.
They are necessary things, critical to the development of my soul.

Forming our character and nurturing our souls is exhausting, never-ending work.
It must be tended like a garden, continually, seasonally.
Neglected, our souls become grown over, dusty, and full of weeds.
No one wants a dusty soul to lug around.

The spiritual practices –
daily prayer, fasting, Sabbath, the sacred meal, pilgrimage,
observance of sacred seasons, and giving –
these disciplines are about humanity and aliveness.
They are ways of becoming awake and staying awake to God.
They give us the inner resolve to emulate David and confront Goliath
when the situation calls for it.

Jesus awoke on the boat that night to calmly confront the storm raging all around.
He didn’t panic. He was not anxious or fearful.
He radiated a sense of profound calm to the disciples and to the forces of nature.
Jesus’ calm is the inner strength we find to deal with the really big stuff.
The day-to-day garbage is what sends us over the edge,
but when push comes to shove, God is there.

God is there to accompany us through whatever violent windstorm is raging,
but we will only feel that calm-comforting if we dare to go there.
We must be brave enough and committed enough
to mindfully turn away from the fear and anxiety and instead
return again and again to simplicity of thought —
to the tending of our souls.

If we don’t, if we neglect our souls,
we are no better than the tourists wandering carelessly through Yellowstone
getting too close to the bears.
The park rangers aren’t going to save us,
the “experts” are not going to rescue us,
litigation and release forms won’t always protect us.
We must take ownership and responsibility
for the development of our character and the pruning of our souls.

On one of my favorite websites, I came across this simple poem
by theologian and artist, Jan Richardson.
The poem is about this gospel reading,
narrated from Jesus’ point of view, addressing the disciples and us.

It’s called:
Blessing in the Storm

I cannot claim
to still the storm
that has seized you,

cannot calm
the waves that wash
through your soul,

that break against
your fierce and
aching heart.

But I will wade
into these waters,

will stand with you
in this storm,

will say peace to you
in the waves,

peace to you
in the winds,

peace to you
in every moment
that finds you still
within the storm.

Blessing in the Storm,” by Jan Richardson: http://www.paintedprayerbook.com.