Sunday, June 21, 2015

Resting is a Divine Choice! Mark 4:35-41

In today’s Scripture our friends are about to take a journey outside of their comfort zone.  Jesus says lets cross to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.  I was wondering what the other side meant?  Jesus was already in the region of Magdala and Capernaum.
According to Professor Rami Arav 
University of Nebraska at Omaha
“Jesus made his home among the Jewish fishermen of the northern Sea of Galilee and soon learned their lifestyle, the hardship of their livelihood and their anxieties. He made Capernaum his hometown. Capernaum was no more than a small hamlet of fishermen situated at the northwestern shores of the lake. It contained one cluster of simple courtyard houses constructed of the local black basalt stones. Jesus did not remain only in Capernaum, but wandered also between two other locations in the vicinity: Chorazin and Bethsaida.”[1]
But then I got to thinking and I do not believe this to be relevant.  These are seasoned fisherman.  They been in and around this lake all their lives.  To give us some perspective; “How does the size of Lake Tahoe compare with the Sea of Galilee? Lake Tahoe, at 22 by 12 miles wide, is 9 miles longer and 4 miles wider than the Sea of Galilee, which measures about 13 by 8 miles.”[2]  At its deepest it is 200 ft deep. As I continue to reflect, I am sure, these guys’ boats were not anything magnificent but by no account were they flimsy.  These men had been raised around this lake coming from generations of fishermen.  They knew how to swim.  They knew these waters by heart and yet…the story says; they woke him up saying “Teacher don’t you care that we’re drowning.”  Ok, exaggerate much? I must believe this has nothing to do with a physical storm.
Kwasi Kena ask some interesting questions of this text and the disciple’s experience.
“Storms. Who hasn’t experienced nature’s fury?  After living through enough storms, two things may occur. First, you might develop the assurance that when storms hit, you will get through it. Second, you may develop a somber respect for nature’s ability to wreak havoc on life and Limb in a flash.
In Mark 4, the disciples find themselves in the middle of a violent storm while crossing the Sea of Galilee.  They have crossed this sea before, but on this evening the storms seem demonically driven such that the disciples frantically cry out, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing” (v. 38cNSRV)? Yet, Jesus, who was also on board, lies sleeping.
The Psalmist notes, “He who keeps you will not slumber” (Ps 121:3 NRSV). What a contrast between that vigilant God and this sleeping Jesus.  Doesn’t Jesus Care?
The prevailing worldview of the day held various beliefs about the sea and storms.  In the near-eastern narratives, the sea symbolizes chaos, evil, and demonic power. Jewish apocalyptic literature likens the raging seas to the conflict between God and Satan.  The stormy sea equals the power of death, which means powerlessness in Jewish thought.  Could the disciples avoided such thoughts that night?
Despite the Disciples’ angst, Jesus sleeps.  Why? To Him, the storm was not a crisis.  He obviously believes the situation is not beyond control.  In ancient Eastern Theology, the Creator God can “sleep” because God fears no challenger to his authority.  Resting is a divine choice.
Once awakened, Jesus commands the storm to be quiet.  The storm, violent enough to scare seasoned fishermen, ceases.  Jesus’ stilling of the storm shows the disciples that storms – demonic or otherwise- remain subject to God’s authority. What storms have you allowed to usurp God’s authority in your mind? As an act of faith -----rest.”[3]

We all suffer from irrational fear from time to time.  I have a healthy fear of heights and it can still send me into a panic crossing an over pass that millions have crossed before me. I can drive across the golden gate with no qualms whatsoever but I will not drive on the edge of the 134 coming south from Pasadena.  Yet for me this is still addressing something different.
We are a people of prayer.  We trust in the power of prayer to connect us to the other, to the spirit, to the God that is beyond us, outside of us and yet grounded within us.  We use prayer to center ourselves. We use prayer to strengthen and comfort ourselves.  We use prayer to make wishes, I know this doesn’t sound good but it is true.  In this case I believe the storm was irrational fear brewing within the disciple’s soul.
This whole ministry thing is still new to them.  This itinerant preaching thing going here and there is very different from the lifestyle of a fisherman.  Jesus’ cousin had been executed.  They tried to bump of Jesus in his hometown and now they are headed into the unknown but once again.  If we keep going wherever you lead us we are going to die.  It is so much safer to stick to our routines, do not try going somewhere or doing something new, we might fail!
These are words never said and yet, for me they sound very similar to what the disciples may be saying in this reading.  It is very opposite the scripture of Isiah 43 which a very familiar hymn is based upon.  “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
    and the flame shall not consume you. (Is 43:1-2)”
of course the song ends with  “ come follow me and I will give you rest.”[4] Remember what Kena said earlier “Resting is a divine choice.”[5]  This is a choice we often find hard to make.  When we face something new or strange or when something turns our world upside down as it just has in south Carolina, we suddenly have this urgent need, this is when we wake up the Lord and say can’t you see we are about to drown.  Honestly, I wonder for how many of us this is our prayer life?  How often do we go to God only when we are in urgent need?  It is easy to do and I am not saying it is wrong for all and any prayer is good for it does connect us to the other and it brings us back to God but, once the crisis has passed, then what?
There is this belief if we learn to walk with God, to give God daily, our prayers and devotions we can move past the urgency of daily life and move into a closer relationship with God. This is not easy.  You may have heard references to the great spiritual leaders who moved out to the desert to renounce life and be closer to God.  Yet the desert fathers and mothers learned that this alone was not an answer.
“In an old, often retold, mythical tale of Abba Anthony, we hear him tell about the vicissitudes of renouncing wealth, honor, status, relationships, and comfort only to find that the thoughts of wealth, honor, status, relationships, and comfort had followed him into his solitude. Rather than moving into a mystical experience with God, his mind kept his previous life before him.  Prayer was very difficult because, although he was in the desert, his mind was back home.”[6]
Now if one of the great mystics was finding his own prayer life haunted by thoughts of things that didn’t even affect him anymore how much can we be blamed when we jump into panic prayer mode? Resting is a divine choice.
Even for those of us engaged in the daily grind of life there is a way beyond these thoughts that pop into our head.  There are practices that, as we learn and perfect them, allow us to move in to a restful, calm, trusting prayer life.  There are practice that will allow you to calm down the Monkey brain.
Ok umm Monkey Brain….the very instinctual part of us, the primate part of us, sets us on a path that makes no sense...I am trying to be still and suddenly…I need to do this…or I wonder what so and so is doing right now….or Pie…or what shall I make for dinner…tomorrow I must to this and this and …..The thoughts just keep coming and we can’t seem to shut them off.
As we enter into times of silence we often find ourselves trying to fight these thoughts, to overcome them to just push them away or, as I said earlier, we wake the Lord up and one of these random panicky thoughts suddenly becomes an urgent prayer.
We can teach ourselves how to honor these thoughts and let them be and still remain in the stillness of God.  Frank Rogers, a professor at Claremont School of Theology, taught me that instead of dismissing these distractions when in prayer we should honor them.  If you are trying to be still and silent in the presence of God and a random thought pops up hold it for a moment…pay attention to what it is, if it is important promise you will attend to it later and let it go and return to the silence, to the presence of God.
You can see through this practice that the most urgent, or the most mundane, gets attended to with the same, calm, centered way of being.  This way of being present to God and honoring our distractions, as it becomes a practice, you will see the distractions become less and less.  We find that our mind and soul learns that all our needs and distractions are the same to God.  If we truly believe that God is always with us, then where is the urgency?  Where is the need to wake God from his slumber? If we allow our concerns to rest, as we rest with God in Prayer…all will be attended too.  Resting is a divine choice. 
Yet, this is a choice and it is a practice that one must learn.
I am telling you right now if you try silent meditation….you will fail.  If you try lectio divina…you will fail.  If you try the old standard, rote prayer, you will fail.  If you are trying to pay attention to me right now, some of you have failed.  You see the human brain is wired to distraction.  We have to practice and intentionally teach ourselves to allow our brain to rest in God.
I mentioned Lectio Divina, and I am sure you have heard it before.  This is one of the simplest ways of meditative prayer taught. There are several steps; the first being lectio – to study and understand the literal sense of the text.  This means read the foot notes in the study bible, maybe look up via internet where and when and who the text was written for.  Nothing extreme, you just want to get a basic understanding of the text. This is not a doctoral endeavor.
“The Second stage in lectio divina is meditation, thinking and reflecting upon the text in order to understand its significance. The hermits used their time in their cells (individual sleeping/study spaces) to immerse themselves in the word of God until it became natural to them a prayer coming from within as well as without.”[7]
For us today in this practice it would be to read the text out loud.  Read it out loud a couple of times, with silence in between, internalizing it. Allow it to become a prayer.  Maybe Journal about it.  Writing poetry or a prayer around the concept of the scripture that you are attempting to immerse yourself in.  This moves the text into the next stage oratio which means simply using the in your life as action or prayer I action.
Finally there is the contemplation of the text, contemplatio. This, Mary Margaret Funk writes; “means sitting in silence with no thoughts, the unspeakable joy of simply resting in God.”[8]  All together and a simple way to put this for a half hour practice: Choose the text, seek some understanding of when and who it is written for, read it out loud 3 or four times with silence in between so you are meditating upon it, then write down or share, if you are doing this in a group, what stood out for you what moved your heart. 
Being focused upon a text helps limit the monkey brain intrusion though you will still have to practice the honoring of your distractions.  Yet as you practice this simple form of lectio the distractions will learn that they will be honored later and allow you to rest in God. Resting is a Divine Choice.
I found an advertisement on-line for a chance to learn some of these techniques but the advice given by the Pastor who was doing the advertisement is great she teaches some simple techniques to allow ourselves to rest in God…
• Light a candle to begin, and offer God your intention. Your desire to be with God pleases God, even if it doesn’t go as you plan.
• Focus on your breathing. Become aware of your body. Remind yourself that God is present right where you are, so be where you are!
• Don’t declare war on your thoughts, chasing them down to shut them up. That increases the attention you’re paying them. Try to just let them pass by. (this works for some I still prefer Honoring the thought by holding it, acknowledging it, then letting it go.)
• Poetry sometimes help me slow down my thinking. Some of my favorite poets are Mary Oliver and Denise Levertov. It’s a good prelude to prayer.
• When closing my eyes seems to just encourage the monkey- brain, I have some mandala coloring sheets that can sometimes distract my brain just enough, but not too much. (You can find these online)
• Music can help settle me too, but be very careful what you choose. For me, it has to be instrumental and very mellow. Otherwise my brain grabs hold of the song and starts following it!
• Resist any and all temptation to evaluate your effort – to grade yourself, so to speak. Again, that just puts you in your analytical brain. You showed up. You did the best you could. You will try again tomorrow.[9]

Whatever practice you find that works for you it will teach your mind and your heart patience.  If you know God in the stillness then you will know there is no need to wake the Master as he is sleeping.  Your “storm” is not Gods’ “storm” and when you intently seek out time to rest in God you will find that God will calm the waters even before your storm arises. Amen!

[1] Rami Arav, Bethsaida and the Ministry of Jesus around the Sea of Galilee, Unknown, accessed June 15, 2015,
[2] Donna Reddin, Lake Tahoe, last modified 2015, accessed June 15, 2015,
[4] Bob Dufford, Be Not Afraid (Phoenix, Ariz: North American Liturgy Resources, 1975), Digital eBook.
[6] Mary Margaret Funk, Thoughts Matter: The Practice of Spiritual Life (New York: Continuum, 1998), Digital eBook.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Pastor Susan, The Important Thing about Silent Prayer: Don’t Give Up!, October, 2014, accessed June 15, 2015,

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