Tuesday, September 18, 2007

International Day of Peace

St. Andrew's Episcopal School - Middle and Upper School Chapel

Micah 4:1-5; Psalm 37:7-12; Mark 4:35-40

I have never been out on a boat in the middle of a raging storm. But that hasn’t kept me from turning a few boats over anyway…All it takes a very special lack of aquatic skill and the discovery of a very large spider on board for me to flip a canoe on a lake smaller than the one just down the hill.

The disciples were out on a boat in the middle of a raging storm. But that shouldn’t have worried them – several of them, including our own Andrew, were seasoned fishermen who had surely been out in worse weather. The wind and waves were really beating the boat, though, rocking it violently, swamping it and threatening to turn it over.

I think it must have been one of those times when, in the midst of a crisis, we begin to forget everything we know, like, don’t stand up in the canoe, don’t whack mercilessly with your paddle at a spider in your canoe… The disciples knew how to handle their boat, but the fierceness of the storm tipped their worry over into fear that sank deep into their bones, and they forgot everything they knew about boats. Tempers and panic rose to the surface, and they shook Jesus awake, crying, Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?

Whatever currents there were in the wind and water that had worked themselves up into a storm, they were something like the currents swirling around Jesus each and every day. As he went about the towns and villages of Galilee preaching and teaching and practicing compassion for those pushed to the margins of society – compassion for the sick, the poor, the outcast, the foreigner, the sinner – those who were in positions of power began to fear he was going to capsize the system they had so carefully constructed. In that system, the sick, the poor, the outcast, the foreigner, and the sinner were considered threats to the safety of the community and the nation. They didn’t belong in the boat and were excluded at all costs.

The storm brewing over the Sea of Galilee that day was very much like the storm brewing around Love in a world governed by Fear. And just as the disciples forgot everything they knew about navigating rough waters, so do we often forget what we know about navigating conflict in our lives, our communities, and our world. Fear takes over, terror sets in, and we lash out at one another, whacking mercilessly at what we perceive to be the threat to our safety. The descent into violent seas, or into all-out war, is swift, and we cry out to God, Don’t you care that we are perishing?

Peace, be still! Jesus said, and the wind and waves were calm, but only, I think, as a courtesy, because Jesus was not speaking to the water but to the disciples whose fear had made them forget what they were made of. Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith? he asked them, and he asks us. Have you still no faith that there is and always has been peace in the boat with you, that you are capable of navigating rough seas, that you are capable of navigating conflict, that you do not sail these waters alone?

It is a small but terribly significant detail in this story that there were other boats out with Jesus and the disciples that day. Mark tells us nothing more about them, how they fared in the storm, whether they were afraid, whether they had faith, but he tells us they were there together on the water as the great storm arose. It is a significant detail for us in this week when people all over the world will be observing the International Day of Peace. More than twenty years ago, the United Nations passed a resolution calling for this annual event, a day upon which the world would mark its progress toward global peace. This Friday, September 21, people of all nations, races, and faiths will join together in remembering what we are made of, what we already know, that there is peace in all our little boats, that we do not have to be afraid, that we do not sail alone. We will mark the International Day of Peace today in our prayers.

“There have never been more able crafts in the waters than there are right now across the world,” writes scholar Clarissa Pinkola Estes in a piece entitled, Letter to a Young Activist, encouraging us not to make things worse in the middle of the storm by fearfully whacking away at spiders or whatever it is that we think threatens our safety. This morning I leave you with a portion of that letter. “Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts, or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good. What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing…

“One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times… To display the lantern of the soul in shadowy times like these – to be fierce and to show mercy toward others, both, are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity. Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it.” Amen.

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