June 21, 2009


Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith? – Mk 4: 40

An elderly woman named Maude had a window seat on a 747 jetliner that had just taken off for Rome . She had been scrimping for years to fulfill her dream of travelling to Europe & visiting the exotic places she’d read about all her life. But it was her first flight & she was terrified. “O Lord, what am I doing up here?” she kept saying to herself. Even the stately presence of 4 bishops seated behind her didn’t help. In fear & trembling, she finally opened her eyes & looked out the window just in time to see one of the plane’s 4 engines break loose from the wing & disappear into the clouds below. Maude cried out “We’re going to die!” The head stewardess immediately consulted with the pilot, then announced to the passengers that everything was under control.

“The captain assures you,” she said, “that he can fly the plane back to New York & land safely on 3 engines.” But poor, panic-stricken Maude continued to cry out, “We’re going to die!” The stewardess went to her & said, “Don’t worry my dear, God is with us. We have only 3 engines, but look, we have 4 bishops.” To which Maude replied, “I’d rather have 4 engines & 3 bishops.”

Fear & faith seem to be symbiotic partners in life. Jesus had been trying to lead his disciples from fear to faith for some time now, but apparently with only partial success. They had accepted his invitation to two journeys: the physical one in the boat to cross the lake, & the spiritual one wherein perfect love casts out fear. Both journeys tested them & found them wanting.

Life is constantly harassed by physical & social dangers. When we are in the midst of them, our minds identify with what threatens us. They mirror the winds & the waves, making us as driven & tossed as they are. In this state, we cannot receive from God, cannot seem to make our Lord’s wisdom work for us. The single-hearted may see God; but the double-minded see both God & the waves, & the waves win.

The disciples are doubters. The danger makes them question if God loves them. They vacillate, & this vacillating keeps them from receiving the help they need from God. Does God care? The answer is “Yes!” but this care can only be recognized & received by the non-doubting mind. The awakened Jesus shows them the power of a steady mind open to God & mediating God’s power in the storms of life. But when He rebukes the pretentious power of fear, a different kind of fear grips them: “They were filled with great awe.”

People prostrate themselves & quake whenever God’s power appears. But even this type of fear can work against faith. It generates wonder & worship, but it does not encourage imitation. We feel more comfortable worshipping Jesus than following Him. Evelyn Underhill put it this way: “It is far easier, though not very easy, to develop & preserve a spiritual outlook on life, than it is to make our everyday actions harmonize with that spiritual outlook.” The dynamic challenge of discipleship is to integrate a divine love that is stronger than death with our fears. It is a never ending struggle in this stage of our journey. AMEN!