For my extended family, 2011 was the year we were caught in a storm of sadness. For one cousin alone, the year brought the death of a husband from a long illness, her daughter was taken from her in a motorcycle accident and both my cousin and her son were diagnosed with kidney cancer. Breast cancer and ALS struck my own sisters and by December I was only too happy to see the end of the year approach.
Was my faith shaken? Not only shaken but stirred. Grief, and the anticipation of loss are at the same time universal and devastatingly personal. I knew in my heart that these events happen to the beloved of other people, but this time it was people I knew like I know myself.
I spent Christmas in the Keys that year. I guess, like Jonah, I wanted to get as far away as possible from what God was asking of us. No luck. At Mass at St. Peter’s church on Big Pine Key I spent a long time looking at the depiction behind the altar of a storm tossed boat and some very distressed disciples waking Jesus from his nap.
Every now and then, I marvel at the simple brilliance of the Gospel stories and how they show how the faith of the first followers is both overwhelming and fragile. One of my favorites is from Luke:
One day he got into a boat with his disciples and said to them, “Let us cross to the other side of the lake.” So they set sail, and while they were sailing he fell asleep.
They must have felt peaceful and tranquil and full of trust as they sailed in that little boat, secure that Jesus was with them. Just like me, I thought. My faith is pretty strong when the waters are calm.
And then as soon as the squall came and the boat rocked and started to take in water, the disciples went looking for Jesus in their terror. As though he wasn’t with them the entire time.
How different am I? In my sadness I look around to see if perhaps Jesus isn’t busy with something else or asleep or doing something that made him take his eyes off me for a second. I want to wake him up too.
Although Mark’s Gospel today is not the same story and Jesus is not asleep, he seems nonetheless to be taking a little break from his followers, leaving them to live what he has been trying to teach them. But he is never too far away to step in and remind them of his presence.
2011 is over and so is 2012. My sisters still struggle with the aftermath of their respective diagnoses. I pray and read from the Scripture with one of them over the phone several times a week – she listens because her disease has robbed her of her speech. Before we read from Luke we pray:
Dear Lord, as we meditate on these passages from Scripture, please help us to trust you with our whole being. We cannot know what you have in store for us, but allow us to live each day trusting that you will be there to hold out your hand to help us through the storm.