35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”Mark 4:35-40 (NRSV)
As I write you, I am looking out over Lake Junaluska, near Asheville, North Carolina. I am here to learn how to be a District Superintendent in four days of study, prayer, worship and small group. It is an anxious time, learning new things, meeting a lot of new people and trying to piece together a new rhythm of life based on a new role. Maybe you’ve had changes like this in your life?
I am probably going to sound like a broken record, but one of the most important things I have learned about this kind of change is to stay calm. I can be a worrier – maybe like some of you? I can get anxious, especially in new situations – maybe some of you do that too? I can remember as a teenager, when I would borrow the car from my dad, he would always say “Slow down. Breathe. You don’t need to go so fast.” I do that too – move too quickly and don’t pay as close attention as I could.
Learning to calm oneself is a high art I think – experimenting, failing, and getting back up to try again. Over the years, I have learned what helps me stay in my thinking brain. I need to move more slowly than my instincts suggest so I can pay attention to where God is already moving. Breathing slowly in prayer and meditation are important disciplines that help me; I often combine this with walking (prayer walking!) and find it very helpful. I have also learned to ask myself powerful questions instead of trying to solve everything immediately in my panic or anxiety. The more I stay in sync with these practices, the more I find I am making good decisions and staying steady in challenging times.
Bishop Steiner-Ball from West Virginia led our worship this morning, preaching to us of Jesus in the midst of the storm from Mark 4. She reminded us that the trip the disciples are on with Jesus is one that will take them to a new place where there are people they do not know, and who are very different from them. In the midst of an anxious trip, a storm arises that frightens them even more. They may think they can handle this on their own – but their panic is clear. They need Jesus.
What calms you? Rarely is it someone telling you “Calm down!” (or yelling it at you, as I do to my dog sometimes!). It is almost always something we’ve learned about ourselves, and it is often in our relationship with others – especially with God. Learning to trust and lean in to what God knows and does is freeing and calming. God is with us in the storm, and with us even in the crisis of faith that sometimes goes along with the storm. With God, we can find clarity, gratitude, and peace – it is all right there in the quieting of the storm. Who is this with us in our panic and fear? Who calms that storm by being present with us? It is always Jesus.
So I will spend time this week walking around the lake, breathing, asking myself powerful questions, and finding gratitude and peace in the one who called me to this place and to this work. I pray that you find time, rest, and peace in the midst of your changing times. For our pastors, remember we have access to grants for spiritual direction if that would be helpful for you. For our congregations, we are having a session with Amy Oden in the Spring on Christian Mindfulness – be sure save April 29, 2020 for that event. (Further details and registration will come as we get closer to that time!) And of course, I know I am trying, and hope you are trying, to Lead in Love so that others can know the peace of Christ in their lives.
There may be other ways we can help be Jesus for each other in the storm – let me know if you have ideas.
DS Sarah Calvert