Have you ever experienced “that sinking feeling”? It is a premonition that something is not right or something bad is about to happen. Peter had that sinking feeling in the midst of a terrible storm, will we survive? Peter and the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water. His reaction was not “now we will be okay. “ Instead he continued to have that sinking feeling, unsure whether he really was seeing Jesus, or was it a ghost? So he tested. “Lord if that is you; command me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” Jesus responded. Surely strengthened by a familiar voice Peter with courage stood, stepped out of the boat and began to walk on the water himself. There is a lesson for us: in the midst of our storms we too can stand up and step out if we too trust that the Lord is there always with us. Sadly we don’t, I don’t.
Peter for some reason took his eyes off Jesus; he looked around and down, was startled by what he was doing, became frightened again and experienced that sinking feeling again. He lost his focus on Christ.
Some boys decided to see who could make the straightest track across a snowy field. One of them made a path almost perfectly straight while the others wandered all over the place. How did he do that he was asked. “It was easy,” he said. “I just kept my eyes fixed on the lightning rod on the top of the barn at the end of the field. The rest of you kept looking down at your feet.” He remained focused.
We try to remain focused on Christ but our human nature intrudes. We start out standing and allowing Christ to guide our journey, but then distracted by worldly influences and human weakness, including wanting to be in control, we lose our focus on Christ and get that sinking feeling again.
How can we avoid such distractions and keep our eyes fixed on Christ walking with us? It begins with personal prayer and is sustained by a personal relationship with Jesus Christ through his Church confident that he will be with us until the end of time.
The first reading from Kings describes it so beautifully as the prophet Elijah sought to experience God. Elijah discovered that the Lord was not in the strong and heavy winds, nor was the Lord in the earthquake, nor in the fire. Elijah found the Lord in the tiny whispering sound and was humbled by it.
We are a culture of noise; it is hard to escape from the chatter and the churning. Even at home it is noisy. When I go to the chapel to pray the quiet is soon interrupted by the sound of air conditioning fans. Here at Mass when we sit for a moment in quiet, I like some of you become anxious about when things will stir and we will move on. I just finished reading a book entitled “The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise.
Sometimes though while resting in the quiet we become anxious because we do not know how to pray, what to say. One commentator suggested we learn from the brevity of Peter’s prayer. Normally talkative, he simply prayed out of his need, “Lord save me.” How, he left in the hands of God. He spoke only a trinity of words.
Hopefully like Peter when we have discovered ourselves off course, sinking, we will have the honesty and faith to call out as did he, “Lord, save me.” When Peter did Jesus immediately stretched his hand and caught Peter. He did call him to account, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” He challenged Peter to reflect on how and why he was in trouble, but he also immediately stretched out his hand and saved him.
Blessed Pope Paul VI told of the first time he entered his office as the new Holy Father though he had been there often as an aide to his predecessors. He looked at the papers on the desk and then put his head in his hands so overwhelmed was he with the heavy responsibilities he now personally had as Vicar of Christ and the burden of the 2,000 year legacy he inherited. Then as he raised his head he saw a painting of Jesus walking on the water and a peace came over him. He said that like the first Peter he knew he would never be left alone. Christ’s hand would always be reaching out to steady and save him.
You may recall the true story of woman named Susan who was pregnant with a little one but then suffered a stroke while also fighting brain cancer. She was declared brain dead. Not certain if she truly was, her husband decided to keep her body functioning on life support in hopes that their baby might be given a chance to be born though the odds were long and insurance would not cover the costs. Doctors told him that it was a race between the baby developing and the cancer raging. The father and husband slept each night in a chair next to his wife and his unborn child. After three months of this extraordinary care and prayer a baby girl was born weighing one pound 13 ounces. After the birth, having received the anointing of the sick for someone dying, the life support was removed and the new mother died. “It was a bittersweet day,” a family member commented. The baby was named Susan after her mother. Our Lord was offering his hand of hope throughout.
I too experienced that sinking feeling. “Lord help me” I cry out. Jesus rightly challenges me, “O you of little faith, why do you doubt.” He reassures me through His Church, the sacraments, and the community of faith in response to my often unspoken plea: “Lord save me.” He catches me and steadies me and the storms while continuing also move on. He will do that and be there for you as well. But first we must quiet ourselves down, move beyond the distractions and open our hearts to the whispering sound of his love. His calming love always awaits us in the midst of our storms.
One of my favorite images is a hand reaching up grasped by another hand reaching down, man reaching up to God in need and God reaching down grasping our hand to steady us and save us. It reminds me of the crucifix with Christ at the center. His hand is ever reaching out to us proclaiming, “It is I, do not be afraid.” May we with confident faith reach out to him.