Afraid of the Calm

I was reading the story of Jesus calming the storm.  It's an interesting read, one that we are all probably too familiar with.  I don't believe this is one of those stories that most of us don't get.  We get this, all of it.  We get the idea of sailing through life, having some sort of storm roll up on us, whether we created the storm, set the right environment for a storm, or the storm came looking for us doesn't matter.  The point is we all know what it feels like to be in the middle of a storm, much like the disciples were.  Not only were the disciples afraid, but their fear was only heightened by their loneliness.  Jesus was noticeably absent.  Again, we all get this.  We have all been in the middle of one of life's storms, and our cries and prayers seem to, at best, echo back as they bounce off the ceiling, or at worst fall on deaf ears.  Doesn't Jesus care?  Doesn't my current storm demand his attention more than some need for a nap?  We have all been there.  Jesus seems to have taken a nap or left the building and it's just us against the storm, and if you've ever watched news coverage from Oklahoma, you know how that turns out. 

Then the story takes a turn.  Jesus wakes up, points his attention to the storm at hand,  and speaks "peace" into it, and just like that the storm dissipates - finished.  In fact, scripture tells us that a "great calm" came over the sea.     All is good with the world, right?  Well, one would think, but it doesn't appear to be so.   In fact, the very next line says, "they feared exceedingly" or better translated, "...they feared a great fear..."  So, here's the deal, a storm shows up out of no where, and they are full of fear, they pray and plead for Jesus to rescue them from the storm, to bring "peace" to their situation, he does this, and rather than moving from a place of fear to assurance, they move from fear to great fear.  The storm caused fear, but the calm caused an even greater fear.  

Why is this?  Often times our prayers are for us.  To say it simply.  Of course we wouldn't admit it, but if we drop all of our spiritual semantics, it is simply the truth.  If we were given some sort of truth serum, and asked why we are praying what we are praying, it's simply because the storms of life have revealed our loss of control over our ____________________ (family, future, five-year-plan, job, church, vacation, calling, vocation, etc [you fill in the blank]).  And we simply need God to step in, calm the storm, so we can take our proper place back in the drivers seat and control life.  The story, if the stars align for us, usually goes like this: we are moving on through life; storm comes on strong; we pray, cry, plead, beg God to stop the storm; He does; we rejoice, send out praise reports, light-up facebook with "praise God" messages; and simply go back to business as usual.  But here's the deal, if God allows a storm to overtake you, the intended result is never for you to go back to business as usual.  He doesn't cause a "great calm" so you can take control of life again.  

Let me digress for a minute: The stormy sea in the ancient Near Eastern world stood for the realm of Chaos.  When the 1st century readers of the gospels read this story, they didn't just read about a storm caused by some meteorological hiccup caused by extreme differences in temperatures between the shoreline and the rolling hills of the region. They read something else.  The realm of Chaos was the realm where darkness and danger ruled, the realm where order was not present.  It was the realm of the great Babylonian God Marduk (and other gods before the Babylonian empire), the realm of the demonic (in fact, with this little tidbit of information in mind, go back and reread all of the water stories in the Bible - creation, crossing the Red Sea, Turning the Nile to blood, Jonah, etc...it's pretty amazing).

Now consider Psalm 89, "O' Lord god of hosts, who is mighty as you are, O' Lord, with your faithfulness all around you?  You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise,  you still them..."

The realm of Chaos is powerful, it is that which the Kingdom of God is set up against.  Scripture makes it clear, that controlling the sea and storms (realm of Chaos) was the prerogative of God alone.  No wonder the disciples speak out and say, "who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"  No wonder they "feared a greater fear".  God did not save them from the storm in order to turn control back over to them, but rather to reveal to them who was truly in control. If they thought the storm stripped them of most of their control, it was the calm that revealed to them, that God and God alone has control over life. For most of us, especially those of us who wear busyness as a badge of honor, this is the scariest place on earth we could be, yet we long for it, because the "calm" is the place we truly meet God and come to the realization of who we are not.  

Throughout history different civilizations, cultures, tribes, and people, have used different elements to hold God at arms length.  Ours is over-activity.  Jesuit Priest, James Martin says it like this:

"...our busyness is the inevitable outcome of a world where over-activity is praised.  And if everyone else is busy, who are we to opt out?  Busyness is the way we prove to ourselves that we are important"..and I'll add, "In control"

Think of the trickle down influence of over-activity and busyness in our culture: After the industrial revolution busyness equating to importance and value has become an accepted truth and value of our culture.  Over-activity and/or busyness equates to production, and production determines value and importance.  So in a society in which extreme busyness is a badge of honor, the trickle down would move then to communities (just think of the church as an example), next would be the individual, and the cycle perpetuates. Busyness is our way to seem important and appear in control.  Busyness masks our inability to be still (which ironically is a common posture scripture calls us to take before God).  I could give a great example of the way this has been projected on modern day pastors, we have high-jacked the word "pastor" to be a man or woman of the church who gets-things-done and chases the next thing (this isn't found anywhere in scripture) at the expense of being a biblical "pastor" - but that's for another blog.

While I think we do long for the calm, I think maybe we know what it means to be there.  It means we lose control, and we don't know how to willingly do that.  So God allows storms.  He loves us to much to allow us to live under the facade of control, the place where we are God.  So, he allows storms, storms that are often bad enough that they will cause us to long for the "calm", the place where he controls.  When we truly meet God, we come to the realization that we are not in control.  And while storms may cause fear, a calm causes us to "fear a great(er) fear".  So we self-sabotage, we stay busy, we stay in "control" and we avoid the "calm" that we all long for, and the "calm" is where we are faced with who God really is. 

I invite you, "embrace the calm" - if you are in a storm, don't seek to get back to the place where you are in "control" seek to find the God who truly is, and it is here you will find the "calm" you long for. 

 

picture/image from lowlightmixes.podbean.com

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