Sunday's Gospel Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid." Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." He said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!" Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God." -Matthew 14:22-23
We shall steer safely through every storm, as long as our heart is right, our intention fervent, our courage steadfast, and our trust fixed in God. -Francis de Sales
Peter, unaccountably, suggests walking to Jesus on the water. Is this hubris? Or, simply an act from a heart longing for union with God? He walks on the water but fear undermines his trust. I think his failure opens to a deepening of a faith more secure than success might have offered. The loving Presence of the One lifts him from his terror. Peter may not remember how he walked on water, but he will remember how he was saved.
Faith responds to terror in a strong voice (Meditation One). And to enter the abyss is to find the wind which carries you God-ward (Meditation Two). It is the risk taking which brings deliverance, not only for your sake, but others' (Meditation Three). Here's the heart of it, though:
What has a person to fear who lives in the arms and bosom of God? - Paul of the Cross
Be sure to send a post card from the deep,
Meditation One (Introit) Fear Not, You are Mine
Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me.
- Psalm 69:1-2
Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.
The life of faith, and the instinct of faith are one and the same. It is an enjoyment of the goods of God, and a confidence founded on the expectation of His protection, making everything pleasant and received with a good grace. It is indifference to, and at the same time a preparation for every place, state, or person. Faith is never unhappy even when the senses are most desolate. This lively faith is always in God, always in His action above contrary appearances by which the senses are darkened. The senses, in terror, suddenly cry to the soul, "Unhappy one! You have now no resource, you are lost," and instantly faith with a stronger voice answers: "Keep firm, go on, and fear nothing."
-Jean-Pierre de Caussade 1675-1751 Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence
LaNavicella, Giotto, 1305-13
Benedic, anima mea
Bless the LORD, O my soul; O LORD my God, how excellent is your greatness! You are clothed with majesty and splendor. You wrap yourself with light as with a cloak and spread out the heavens like a curtain. You lay the beams of your chambers in the waters above; you make the clouds your chariot; you ride on the wings of the wind. You make the winds your messengers and flames of fire your servants. You have set the earth upon its foundations, so that it never shall move at any time. You covered it with the Deep as with a mantle; the waters stood higher than the mountains. At your rebuke they fled; at the voice of your thunder they hastened away. They went up into the hills and down to the valleys beneath, to the places you had appointed for them. You set the limits that they should not pass; they shall not again cover the earth. You send the springs into the valleys; they flow between the mountains. All the beasts of the field drink their fill from them, and the wild asses quench their thirst. Beside them the birds of the air make their nests and sing among the branches. You water the mountains from your dwelling on high; the earth is fully satisfied by the fruit of your works.
La Navicella after Giotto, Romano Antoniazzo, c.1485
La Navicella, Giotto, 1305-13, detail
Meditation Two (Insight) Raise My Sails to Catch the Full Wind
You, O Eternal Trinity, are a deep sea into which, the more I enter, the more I find, and the more I find, the more I seek. O abyss, O eternal Godhead, O sea profound, what more could you give me than yourself? God’s grace, unsought and unearned, blows through my life, and all I need to do is raise my sails to catch the full wind.
-Catherine of Siena 1347-1380
Meditation Three (Integration) Clumsy for Others' Sake
And that's why I take hope and not condemnation away from reading the stories of Jonah, and Peter, and the rest of God's reluctant prophets and Jesus' wavering disciples. They didn't have it all together, and they didn't fully understand or consistently appreciate what they eventually would proclaim. But the steps they took, however cluelessly or clumsily, made space in which they and others could encounter God's mercy, giving rise to generations of risk-taking and faith arising -- the kind of faith, shared across the Body of Christ, that could not only move mountains, but turn mountains and valleys to plains.
When I fall let me fall without regret like a leaf.
Dear God, be good to me. The sea is so wide, and my boat is so small.
-Breton Fishermen's Prayer
Peter's impulse to walk on water is a line of thought I can't imagine even once. The disciples see Jesus coming across the wind stirred waters. Terrified, they think the figure coming toward them on the water is a ghost! Recognizing Jesus, the terror intensifies. Jesus calls, “Fear not, it is I!” (Ego eimi, I AM.) Surely, the divine implication is still more terrifying.
Peter blurts out, “If it is you, command me to come to you on the water!”
WHAT??? What put that into his head? Did the others think to themselves, Oh, I'd like to try that! Yeah Lord, call ME out on the water too! What made Peter think he could walk to Jesus across the water? If it is you, command me to come to you on the water. And if it isn't you, if you're the devil, uh...I'll just drown!?
“So come on out,” says Jesus. His impulses far ahead of his rational mind, Peter goes out and walks across the water. Then his brain catches up. Distracted, he loses, what? Concentration? Faith? Trust? Crazy-making adrenaline? The wind frightens him, he's gets back in the old groove, and down he goes. Peter shouts for help.
Jesus response is often described as a rebuke but it doesn't seem like that at all to me. Playfully, Jesus compliments Peter, “Why did you doubt, ye of little faith? You HAD it !” Like a parent teaching a child to ride a two-wheel bicycle, you let go and the child sails off in perfect balance. But in a moment of self-consciousness, he falters and falls. The parent calls out, “You did it! You were doing it! You can do it!” I remember those milestones of praise and encouragement, wonder, pride, and celebration - even the bandages and ice pack over well-earned wounds. And, not long after, the child forgets ever learning to ride the bike as he and his friends ride off at dizzying speeds to explore a much expanded world.
(I wonder why Jesus didn't insist that Peter try one more time? Get back on the bike, kid. You can do it now!)
Jesus meets Peter's panic with an outstretched arm and the gentle encouragement of a loving parent. Look! You transcended the deep. You see, your faith can move mountains! Why did you doubt?”
Indeed. Why do you doubt?
You are not walking on the lake like Peter but on another sea, for this world is a sea; Trials its waves, temptations its storms, and men devouring each other as fishes do. Don't be afraid, step out stoutly lest you sink. When the gale blows and the waves rise, and your weakness makes you fear you will be lost, cry out, 'Lord, I am sinking,' and he who bade you walk will not let you perish.
-Augustine of Hippo 354-430 Sermon 141, Psalm 39 passim Quoted from “The Heart at Rest—daily readings with St. Augustine”