This past Tuesday, as has been the case on most Tuesdays over the past 17 months, I joined an hour-long Zoom gathering of United Church ministers. These weekly gatherings have been one of the silver linings to the pandemic. Through them, I have come to know other ministers in and around Edmonton better, and I have learned a lot from sharing our experiences during the pandemic.
Last Tuesday, one of us asked how we had been able to project hope during these challenging times. By the latter, she was referring not just to the pandemic, which in Canada, continues to ebb now that Canada’s vaccination rate is among the highest in the world. She was also thinking about recent heat waves, the discovery of unmarked graves near former Indian Residential schools, and the cultural divides that not only threaten civil unrest, but also make it difficult to persuade more than 75% of Canadians to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
When it was my turn to speak, I talked about the shift from a child’s stance on hope to a more mature one. As Paul said in his first letter to the church in Corinth: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, and I reasoned like a child; but when I became an adult, I put away childish ways” (1 Corinthians 13).
But in thinking about today’s passage from Mark in which Jesus calms a storm, I now wonder if there is all that big a gulf between a so-called child-like stance on hope and a so-called mature one.
The friends of Jesus are panicked when a gale threatens to swamp their boats while crossing a lake at night. Jesus saves them by magically calming the storm, and then he chastises them for their fear.
When I was a child, this story assured me that if we only believe in Jesus and go to church, nothing bad would happen to us. It was the same as believing that as long as we were with our parents, lightning would never strike the house, no illness would permanently mark us, and no difficulty would be too big to overcome.
In contrast, as an adult I focus on how the calm Jesus brings to this storm is only a prelude to a much worse storm they will endure in Jerusalem. Jesus and his friends make it across the lake, but when they reach Jerusalem, they are defeated by the violence of religious and imperial elites.
This final “storm” of Jesus’ life might make the child in me wonder why he would not magically make Good Friday disappear as well.
But as an adult, I view Good Friday as a story that locates hope on the path of death and resurrection because, despite loss and pain, this path leads us to a reunion with the Source of Love we call God.
As a child, I had hoped all difficulties would magically disappear, perhaps with a wave of Jesus’ wand; and as an adult, I find hope in knowing that at the deepest level all is well, and all will be well even in times of crisis.
But even as adults, we still find ourselves wishing for some magic that might make wildfires stop, clear smoke from Edmonton’s skies, and ensure the pandemic will wither away despite anti-vaxxers.
I may judge this latter stance to be childish, but perhaps it takes us to the same place as a so-called more mature stance; for the truth is, there is always something beautiful and mysterious to experience on a summer’s day even when the sun is obscured by smoke.
I might judge faith to be mature only if it involves finding hope in the most extreme circumstances. But if I trust there will be relaxation and beauty to enjoy even in a climate-stressed summer; and if I trust the people we encounter have good intentions in their hearts, this is almost always true.
There are many things about this world we wish were different. We wish it had less poverty, less pollution, and less violence. But even with social ills evident all around us, we still stumble every day into innumerable moments of beauty, social connection, and love.
So, as I head off on a summer break, my hope for you is what I hope for myself – faith that in any storms and challenges we face, we will also find a quiet centre that contains room for hope to enter; and that at any moment we will be able to stop, to be, and to walk slowly into the mystery of our one wild and precious life.
There are many ways to put our hands in the hand of the man who stilled the water; and these methods work whether someone like me judges them as childish or mature. In this summer, as in any other, we have each other, we have faith, and we have love, which is all we ever really need.
Thanks be to God. Amen.