Friday, December 19, 2008
19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Now and again we experience some one in a way that has us saying, “That person walks on water.” They seem to have that “something” that draws us to them. In the gospel, Jesus walks on water, but then he is God. But he seems to do things that we mere mortals could do, that might result in our “walking on water.” First, Jesus put aside his own agenda to be alone in solitude and silence, in order to respond to the needs of others. He had gone to a deserted place in the gospel before this one, and found it full of people who wanted something from him. So he taught them and healed the sick, and then he fed them with a few loaves of bread and fish. The key is he dropped his agenda to care for others. Second, after he sent the people home, he went off to pray alone in silence and solitude.
We could put aside our own agenda to be helpful to others. We could find a quiet place to be alone with God, I think. These may be prerequisites to walking on water. The disciples on the other hand are in a boat. See this as the community of the church gathered together. We gather for sacraments such as the mass. The community can have its troubles, but as long as we stay centered around worship and sacrament we are safe enough. But we won’t walk on water.
Peter wants to come to Jesus across the water. For a brief moment Peter experiences Deification, that is, he realizes his own inner divinity. “God became human so that we could become God”, says St. Augustine. But fear wins out and Peter sinks. Fear can cover up our knowing who we truly are, all that we are. Faith ebbs and doubt fills its place. We sink.
In the prayer of silence and solitude we can have moments where we feel so united with God that it seems like walking on water. But then thoughts, anxiety, fears, plans for accomplishments distract us, and we sink away from that sense of God’s presence. God is still present but we are too much focused on self to realize it. Lately I have seen a shift in my prayer life. I believe more and more that God is present and at work in me even though I have no felt sense of this presence. It is a bit like looking at the stars on a cloudy night. Two planets are going to be in conjunction this week. They will seem to merge into a big star in the sky. It will be spectacular. Will I see it? If it is a cloudy night, I will see and experience nothing. I will look up at the dark sky, and see no stars. Does that mean the planets are not coming into conjunction? Of course they are, but I cannot see it.
So it is in my prayer. I don’t pray that I have a good experience of God in prayer, any more than I look at the sky to see the stars. I simply show up. Just because I look up at the sky, and see nothing but darkness, does not mean nothing is there. The universe is very active. I just don’t see it. God is very present in prayer, actively loving me, but I may experience, or “see” nothing. So I show up to look at the sky, cloudy or clear in the middle of the night and show up to look at God in the middle of the night or middle of the day. I don’t need to see or feel anything to trust and know that God is present. I may flounder at times like Peter in fear and doubt. But I trust that God is here and reaching out to me. Maybe someday I will walk on water, with a lightness of being, free of fear and doubt. Prayer of silence and solitude is my way of getting out of the boat. Jesus says, “Come” each day.