June 18, 2009

Not By Sight

by Brian Volck
Mark 4:35-41

What to make of this short, dramatic tale of wonder and power? Jesus tells his followers to “cross to the other side,” a phrase which, in English, is full of associations Mark’s rough Greek may not sustain. Is this merely a simple boat crossing or a prelude to the passion, a window on death’s terror?

A storm comes over the water – suddenly, as desert weather will. The Son of God is asleep, undisturbed by the drama of crashing waves and a boat not far from being scuttled. His followers shake him awake, anxious to know if he cares.

We don’t learn if Jesus answers them in words before he rebukes the wind and sea. The elements simply obey. A “great calm” settles, and Jesus asks why they were so terrified, why they had not faith.

“Filled with great awe,” they wonder aloud who this teacher is. Read (just as it was written) post-Resurrection, the disciples seem characteristically dim-witted, the twelve stooges. We, who sometimes imagine we understand God, can’t imagine why they didn’t see divinity in the body of a sleeping Palestinian peasant.

I’m writing this from Arizona, where I spent yesterday repairing screen doors and roofs in the Hopi village across the highway from the parish I’m staying this week. I’m trying to see Christ in persons whose lives, circumstances and appearance so differ from mine. I haven’t gotten it down yet. Let me know if you have the secret.

Even when, before our eyes, he stands or sleeps or rebukes the wind, God eludes our mind’s grasp. We walk by faith, we’re told, not by sight. Or knowledge. Or certainty.

Si comprehendis, non Deus est,” Augustine wrote: “If you understand it, it is not God.” And our task? To get up and walk in that darkness of unknowing, following the one whom even wind and sea obey.

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