Stormy seas

Love has a wonder, strength and storminess all its own. Doubts and fears are juxtaposed with exhiliration , enchantment and fantasies. Beyond that, love has roots and stature, gentleness and understanding; in its purest form, love is unconditional, not predicated on gratification or self-fulfillment. Unconditional love dances with the divine and manifests itself in the ordinary. It is sourced in the mystical presence of God. And the Scripture passages for this week open that promise to scrutiny.

In the first reading, Job is caught in the storm, and the Lord lays that fury to rest. But there is the second story, in the Gospel of Mark, and it is Jesus this time who slays the storm.

On that day, as evening drew on, Jesus said to his disciples:
“Let us cross to the other side.”
Leaving the crowd, they took Jesus with them in the boat just as he was.
And other boats were with him.
A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat,
so that it was already filling up.
Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion.
They woke him and said to him,
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
He woke up,
rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Quiet!  Be still!”
The wind ceased and there was great calm.
Then he asked them, “Why are you terrified?
Do you not yet have faith?”
They were filled with great awe and said to one another,
“Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?”

In both passages, and in the Responsorial Psalm, there is relief and gratitude in the resolution of the storms. Each is a demonstration of the wild circumstances that engulf human lives everyday. Each is a testimpny that to lay down the anxiety and step away from the fears that are so much a part of human experience is possible. Both passages intimate the profound sense of transition that occurs as storms develop and disappear. Powerful and pounding, they are temporary. But there is permanence in the immutable, in the divine. And in both cases, that bond of protection is firm in the reality of unconditional love and acceptance.

Our world, our lives, are not a judgement-free zones. There are wildly impossible expectations that we hold ourselves and others to, standards that represent the ideals and tangle relentlessly with the real. But these passages suggest the frailty of our humanity is recognizable, and understood, forgiven and cared for. The God who loves us gives gentle supports in the lives and love of family and friends, partners and strangers. There are tools to be reached for, moments to be shared, revelations to be had and insights to be gained from the very process of living. In a sense, it is all about the perception, the interpretation of what is happening as the storms about us rage. The truth is that we are never really alone. In the throes of transition or the hurricanes of hubris, tsunamis of sorrow, there is acquital granted by this unconditional love. And here, while we exist within broader systems and rules, the single most important thing is this remarkable relationship of unconditional love. It enables all the rest to make sense.

Transition

Mourning. Morning. One letter makes all the difference, weights the wonder of a word, plumbs a depth of being, dances with understanding. Morning. Mourning. Each sculpts the rawness of endings and new beginnings; both invite the interface of the physical and emotional, the personal and communal, the cherished and the yet-to-be-discovered. Each offers imagery, yet both are about transition. And so it is in this Eleventh Sunday of Ordinary Time: imagery and transition. As Catholics, as humans, we live in the shadows of what was and the dawn of what can be.

The Old Testament reading from Ezekiel and the Gospel from Mark linger with that sense of “morning”, vivid stories that paint vibrant images tied deeply to the earth and the richness of natural growth and the gentle, nurturing presence of God. There is an intimacy in the first reading, the prophet’s description:

Thus says the Lord GOD:
I, too, will take from the crest of the cedar,
    from its topmost branches tear off a tender shoot,
and plant it on a high and lofty mountain;
    on the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it.
It shall put forth branches and bear fruit,
    and become a majestic cedar.
Birds of every kind shall dwell beneath it,
    every winged thing in the shade of its boughs.
And all the trees of the field shall know
    that I, the LORD,
bring low the high tree,
    lift high the lowly tree,
wither up the green tree,
    and make the withered tree bloom.
As I, the LORD, have spoken, so will
I do.

That same sweet tenderness pervades the simplicity of the Gospel, the promise of the mustard seed story and the picture of the kingdom of God. There, in the desert, the gentle generosity of God shelters the most vulnerable with the seeming simplicity of shade.

“To what shall we compare the kingdom of God,
or what parable can we use for it?
It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground,
is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth.
But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants
and puts forth large branches,
so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.”

This is morning: the freshness of new beginnings bursting with possibility and subtle supports to mitigate natural fears and anxieties. The image entices and impels a stronger, better, richer reality, something more than we might suspect exists. Each describes a caring, compassionate God alive to the needs of all that lives.

On the other hand, mourning is born of relationships, of concrete connections and tangible truths. Mourning confides absence and swells with the unrealized. Grief and despair, consciousness of loss and separation are inevitable in human life. The reading from Corinthians provides a kind encouragement for that reality. It begins with an emphasis on connections, relationships, a “we” that welcomes each “I” and “me”. When I am weak and forlorn, we can still be strong.

We are always courageous,
although we know that while we are at home in the body
we are away from the Lord,
for we walk by faith, not by sight.
Yet we are courageous,
and we would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord.

In ordinary times, life is layered complexity. But these are not ordinary times; the lurch of reopenings and re-entering into what was once considered “normal” can be demanding and even exacting. Acknowledging that complexity is like grasping the crisp constrast of homophones that reveal something of who we are and what we experience. All of it has a home in what it means to be human. Somehow, the readings for the Eleventh Sunday of Ordinary Time address that.

Beyond Knowing

Everyone carries a story of experiences that shape and record memory, impact thought and actions, stretch through the awe-filled and awful, slip past the tender and terrifying into the realm of what is real and purposeful. From there, we live out the promise each dawn brings, interweaving the narratives and creating lives and families, friendships and communities. There, in the simplicity of sharing a tapestry, human life finds purpose and meaning in love in all its various forms. Love of partners and falling in love, being in love, love for children and friends and neighbors is sourced in true presence to one another. On this feast, the Solemnity of the Holy Body and Blood of Christ, that Presence is celebrated.

Life is short, and packed with choices and decisions, actions and consequences, causes and effects. It runs wildly through calendar years and slips through decades. The conscious awareness of what is actually happening is dulled by the very busy-ness of it. And yet, love is the underlying theme of all that. Love is framed by the presence of one to another, by the interplay of conversation and partnership, by the commitment to common challenges and continual change. Love allows for the inevitable failures, for the flaws and faults of others, for the disappointments and heartbreak of loss and destruction. Love counters the brokenness with unconditional acceptance and the courage of trust and the strength to move forward. Love is daring to remain present amid the complexity of the narrative.

Today, in this feast, that very truth is captured. It rests there in the Marks’s Gospel, sometimes overlooked as “the institution of the Eucharist”. It is so much more than that! The words define that sense of Presence.

While they were eating,
he took bread, said the blessing,
broke it, gave it to them, and said,
“Take it; this is my body.”
Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them,
and they all drank from it.
He said to them,
“This is my blood of the covenant,
which will be shed for many.
Amen, I say to you,
I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine
until the day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
Then, after singing a hymn,
they went out to the Mount of Olives.

The Eucharist is the Presence of God to each one in the flowing streams of our human stories, through the tsunamis and the earthquakes, the gentle sunrises and the splendor of sunsets: always there, always waiting. In spite of our stories, our choices and failings, always there. In the rich drama of human relationships, there is this amazing quieting gift of Presence in the Eucharist. There is no blame, no accusation, no hurt and no joy, no connection or happiness that does not find the resonance of Presence in the Eucharist. This is Emmanuel-God-with-us. Realizing this Presence gives us the ultimate model of unconditional love. More importantly, the Presence reminds us that in spite of what may seem unlikely or even impossible, we are loved beyond all knowing.