“It is with good reason that the Scriptures often compare sorrow to the waves on the ocean. For sorrow has bitter waves that enter into the very depths of our souls…”
– Fr. Jacques-Benigne Bossuet, Meditations on Mary p. 90
One of the most popular and beloved stories in the synoptic gospels is the account of Jesus walking on water. The part that speaks to most of us is when Jesus calls out to his frightened apostles and says, “Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid.”
All of us want to believe these words of consolation. There are so many dark moments of our lives in which the storms of life seem to capsize all that is familiar, certain, and expected. The vast oceans crash upon our hearts when suffering befalls us and we are panic-stricken, not unlike the apostles who did not understand this miracle Jesus performed before them.
This gospel passage has come to mean something very different to me these past few months; and there are thoughts and inspirations I’d like to share with you about what it may mean, in the hopes that you might also come to find comfort in knowing that Jesus walks with you through every doubt and desolation you may be experiencing.
“He meant to pass by them.” (Mk. 6: 48)
It’s interesting to note that Jesus did not intend to stop and console the apostles. Why did He, then? Perhaps it was because He was moved with pity at their fear, and He knew well that, in their humanity, they didn’t understand what was happening or even who He was.
Darkness often disguises the gifts of suffering and sorrow that God wishes to unveil to us We don’t often acknowledge that our pain has a purpose, because it hurts so badly. And pain thus becomes something disdainful and bitter. Understand, however, that in the midst of your own tumult and tempests, Jesus’ heart is always moved with compassion for your situation – and He will stop to be with you, to comfort you.
“But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out. They had all seen him and were terrified. But at once he spoke with them, ‘Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!’” (Mk. 6: 49-50)
There are moments in our lives when we’re afraid to recognize or see Jesus, because He is disguised and cloaked in darkness. His presence is different than we’re accustomed to. He doesn’t look like we expect or imagine or want, especially in the midst of the storms of grief and suffering. Still, He calls to us to be brave, to see Him as He is. In His humanity, He reaches our own suffering and weakness. And in His divinity, He demonstrates by walking on water that we are not to fear what is unknown or uncertain.
“Their hearts were hardened.” (Mk. 6: 52)
It’s possible the apostles were shaken by this image of Jesus that seemed to be a specter, because their hearts were not softened by the beatitude of meekness. Meekness is what makes us vulnerable to love. It opens our hearts to the capacity of receiving God in any way He wishes to manifest Himself to us – at any time, too. When we are meek, we are always looking for and listening to Jesus, understanding that He may come to us at inconvenient or inopportune moments, and He may ask of us something arduous that requires incredible fortitude.
But we do these things out of love – for God and for others. When our hearts are hardened, we are driven and consumed by fear. It paralyzes us to inaction. It stifles our ability to give and receive all that God asks of us, regardless of the cost. If we are open to receiving God even in the darkness when He is not as He seems, we will grow immensely in our interior life.
Jesus calms the troubled soul.
Finally, be consoled by this final thought from Fr. Bossuet: “Sometimes [Jesus] commanded the water and wind to be calm…Similarly, by pouring out his Spirit upon a troubled soul, he calms it and restores its serenity” (Meditations on Mary, p. 90).
The waves of life will crash upon you as the tide ebbs and flows. All of life involves love and loss, hope and fear, struggle and serenity. We cannot expect it to ever remain the same. Change is what encourages us to grow, to keep moving forward in our spiritual development, and to rely solely upon God in total trust and abandonment.
Still, we can count on Jesus to calm the turbulent waters of anxiety in our lives and grant us peace, either through trials in which we are asked to grow in virtue or by extraordinary grace that penetrates the core of our souls quite miraculously. Either way, be encouraged by the understanding that, when we do our part to be open to God’s mysterious ways and then receive Him and His divine will with trust and hope, He will reach out to us and remind us that He is with us and we have nothing to fear.