Image: Princess Louisa Inlet, BC
When my brother and I were children our family took a trip to Denmark, the country from which my mother and father immigrated. Denmark is an island nation, surrounded by water and so we found ourselves spending many afternoons enjoying the waters of the ocean off the rocky coast, near the home where my dad grew up. Now my brother had not yet learned to swim. He loved to leap from the rocks into the deep water but in order to do so safely he had to wear these inflatable arm bands around his biceps which we referred to as his Popeye arms, after the sailor who grew large muscles after eating his spinach.
One particular afternoon, we decided to go for a dip, but my mother was distracted, and we ended up at the rocky ledge of the swimming spot without her, I dove in and my brother quickly followed. We surfaced and began to play around relishing the cool water and the warm sun on our faces. Then our mother arrived; she took one look at us and screamed, “Colin, you don’t have your Popeye arms on!” My brother, who up to this point did not have a care in the world, was suddenly overwhelmed by fright. I do not remember how we got him back to the edge of the rocks and to safety, I only remember seeing the look of terror in his eyes as he immediately began to sink.
Such is the nature of fear, it overwhelms us, it paralyzes us, it makes us doubt. It has the power to turn otherwise competent people into helpless victims and to move the most composed person to panic.
In our gospel reading today we find the disciples far from land in a gale as Jesus approaches them, walking on the water. Now, as fisherman, a little wind and wave would not normally be a difficult situation but, we read that, “seeing the apparition of Jesus made them terrified.” Wind and water, they were prepared for but seeing what they thought was a ghost was not something they knew how to deal with.
Life sometimes throws difficult situations at us that can truly be overwhelming. We think we are in control and then out of the blue we face something for which we could not have been prepared. But what does Jesus say to the disciples, what does he say to us? “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.
In our hour of greatest need we are invited to look beyond our fear and see that we are not alone and that we have the Lord to help and protect us. We do not have to face it on our own. Upon recognizing the Lord, Peter, always the outgoing one, ventures out of the boat to see if he can walk on water himself. While it is a foolhardy stunt, things appear to go well until Peter takes his eye off of Jesus and, like my brother without his Popeye arms, down he goes. “You of little faith,” Jesus chides him, “why did you doubt”. Then he reaches out his hand and brings him to the boat.
Our pride says that we can manage on our own. Peter’s experience shows us what happens when we isolate ourselves and are afraid to ask for help. In times of trouble it is it is okay to admit that we cannot walk on water, or balance too many things at once, or face all of life’s pressures alone. It is okay to reach out for someone’s hand and ask for the help that we need.
In our first reading today, the prophet Elijah, fleeing in fear for his life, comes to the mountain of God. He is alone and afraid, and he does not know what he is going to do next. God comes to him but not in the wind, or in the earthquake or the fire. God comes to Elijah in a still and quiet silence. God comes to him in peace.
If you are troubled, if you are afraid, if you are overwhelmed and do not know the first step to take, turn to the Lord. Seek the peace that God offers, find the calm in the storm and take the hand that Jesus is reaching out to you.