Walking on Water: Heart, mind and body in harmony
But when Peter noticed the strong wind, Peter became frightened, and beginning to sink, Peter cried out, "Lord, save me!" Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught Peter, saying to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?"
“You of little faith...” That sounds harsh doesn’t it? Peter had shown a lot of faith stepping out of the boat and walking on the waves before he noticed the wind and began to sink. Have you ever tried walking on water? Did you succeed? I doubt that anyone would criticise us for not having faith enough to be able to walk on water. It we tried to walk on water we might be considered mad; a bit like Christians who pick up and dance with poisonous snakes to prove that God will protect them. It is called putting God to the test or just a plain stupid thing to do. We may not be able to walk on water, but we can float. To float we have to lay back in the water and entrust ourselves to the water, to allow our bodies to relax in the water. In a sense this is having faith in the water and in the process; that following this process the water will indeed hold us up and we will not drown. With scientific discovery we have learned to fly, who knows one day we may be able to also walk on water.
I am sure many of us have heard or even preached sermons ourselves urging people to keep their eyes firmly fixed on Jesus. These sermons point out that Peter’s problem is that he took his eyes off Jesus and looked at the waves and down at his feet and immediately his faith evaporated. There is also the verse in Scripture that says we walk by faith not sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). Much of our thinking in the Western world is ‘either/or’ thinking: black or white, right or wrong, war or peace; and this binary thinking enters our theological thinking also. So, we say we are either walking in faith or we are doubting. This kind of binary thinking can give us a hot or cold journey of faith following Jesus. Sometimes we are swimming in warm water or sometimes in cold water. It is not good for our mental health and sets us up for failure. This kind of ‘two-legged stool faith’ is sure to fall over and leave us disappointed or disillusioned.
According to Cynthia Bourgeault (The Wisdom Way of Knowing) the story of Peter walking on water is a favourite of those who teach wisdom. The disciples had spent the whole night in the boat trying to get to the other side of the lake. They were far from land when they suddenly saw what they thought was a ghost walking on the water towards them. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid." In New testament Greek this literally means I am. It was not just the human Jesus walking on water, the use of the words ‘I am’ conveys that it was an encounter with God - the God who made the whole universe and dwells within in it, giving it life and aliveness. For a moment Peter’s heart is so pointedly focused on Jesus that he rises for a moment to Jesus’ level of being, a level of being at which the laws of the physical universe are transcended. But then he notices the strong wind, and perhaps instantly aware of the impossibility of what he is doing, he becomes frightened and begins to sink.
A life of faith is not demonstrated by our ability to walk on water rather it is demonstrated in our ability to love one another. ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself Mark 12:30,31).’ To love God fully, and therefore to have the ability to love our neighbour fully, one loves not just with the heart, but also with the mind, the body and soul.
Rather than a two-legged faith stool that always fall over the wisdom way of knowing refers to a three centred way of knowing (a three legged stool): knowing with the mind, knowing with the heart, knowing with the body. For a moment Peter’s heart, mind and body were in perfect balance and he walked on water but then his mind took over and his body sank. We do not need a faith to walk on water, but we do need a faith that will enable us to love one another as God loves us. For this we need a body, a heart and a mind that are in balance, working in harmony together.
Through the body we engage with other people in kind actions and words. We have to look after our bodies, care for them, exercise them, train them, use them, be aware of them. Our bodies have feelings too. They sense things. They know things. They can tell us when things are not going right. Psychologists tell us that movement of our bodies is very good for our mental health as well as our physical and emotional health.
Our hearts are not just where we feel emotions. The heart according to the ancient wisdom traditions is an organ for the perception of divine purpose and beauty. Cynthia Bourgeault says, ‘It is our antenna, so to speak, given to us to orient us toward the divine radiance and to synchronize our being with its more subtle movements. The heart is not for personal expression but for divine perception.’ It would appear that for a time at least Peter’s heart was like antenna fully alert to the incoming encounter with the living God in the person of Jesus walking on the water.
The third leg of the wisdom stool is the mind. We spend much of our time in our minds worrying about the future and dwelling on the past rather than living in the present moment. How do we control our minds? Peter it seems had great difficulty controlling his mind, although who could blame him when he was defying the laws of Physics.
Peter lost his sense of presence. Maintaining a sense of presence is not only good for our mental health or helping us to survive the busyness and challenges of contemporary life, presence also locates us in a space where we are connecting both with the realities of this world and the kingdom of heaven. To not be present may mean that we do not encounter God in the now, in the present moment, in ordinary as well as extraordinary things. How we need to be present when attempting to respond to situations and all people with love. We have to learn to bring our minds at every moment to the present moment and in this moment and that moment to find life, aliveness, awakeness, God. A life of loving faith requires living with body, mind and heart in balance.
Blessing: May you be at one with yourself and with God. May you find your body, heart and mind in balance. May you be present to the presence of the great ‘I am.’ May your journey of faith through this life be filled with the joy and wonder of the living God. May you be present and know God’s presence even when the storms in life blow strong against you and may you know the peace that stills the storms and calms all our lurking fears. Amen.
Photo: County Clare, Republic of Ireland.
You give them something to eat
I wonder if the people who were fed that day in Galilee wondered where all the food came from? Did they ask how it got here to this deserted place? Did they ask who made and provided all this bread? Did they wonder who had caught and cooked and brought enough fish to feed thousands of people?
Do you ever think about where your food comes from? I was at a picnic last Saturday for rescued greyhounds and their owners. It was held in a field on a hillside near Nowra. It was a lovely warm day more like Summer than the middle of winter. People shared their food with each other. As I ate an egg sandwich, I wondered whether this was an egg from hens that are caged in battery farms or an egg from a free-range farm? Have you ever thought about where your food comes from? Next time you are biting into a steak think about where it came from? On what farm was the animal raised? What food was it fed? Did she grow up roaming the fields eating green grass or did she spend her whole life being fed meal in a dirty confined feed lot?
All our food has a source. It comes from somewhere? It doesn’t come out of thin air or magically appear. There are costs in producing it and getting it to your plate. Sometimes it comes from round the corner perhaps from horticultural gardens on the fringes of cities and sometimes from overseas from the other side of the world. Food scarcity and food security are very big issues that the world is facing. For those who are concerned about the environment and global warming there are great concerns about food production. Each year thousands of acres of land in Australia no longer are arable due to salt leaching and soil erosion. Rain forests controlling the earth’s climate are logged, burned and turned into agricultural land to meet the world’s demand for beef and palm oil etc. Even Ireland with its ‘40 shades of green’ is becoming concerned because climate change is causing irregular rainfall and mini droughts thus effecting Summer food production. Polluted seas are increasingly becoming choked with rubbish and effecting marine life. Fish numbers are diminishing.
When the disciples raised the issue of hungry people far from home in a deserted place, Jesus replied, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat." They replied, "We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish." And he said, "Bring them here to me." Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.
You give them something to eat – Jesus was concerned for the welfare of the people, but he said to the disciples, “You give them something to eat.” We all know the miraculous story and how the food was multiplied. It causes people to ask how did Jesus make that happen? Who is this? That was then but today people still need to be fed. What might this story tell us today about feeding those who are hungry? I am very pleased that our congregation is involved in the recycling and redistribution of food through the Second Bite program and Coles Supermarkets, delivering food to people who are struggling without employment or access government allowances. As disciples of Jesus we are still doing what Jesus asked us to do, we are giving people something to eat. But we also have to be concerned about where the food comes from and the costs to the environment and the welfare of animals, poultry and fish in food production.
God gave us a beautiful world to care for and each other to love and care for. We can change our eating habits. For example, we can eat less meat or no meat. We can eat food only from sustainable sources and sources that ensure the best practices in animal welfare. Farmers can change the way they produce food and they can change the food they produce. They need government support to change so that they can maintain their livelihoods. Even city dwellers can find ways of producing food from creating or joining community gardens, growing more vegetables in their gardens or in pots on their verandas or on their window ledges.
Who is this God who has given us such a beautiful world? Who is this God who breathes life into every living thing? Who is this God who says to us - care for the world? Who is this God who says - you give them something to eat? Who are we who would destroy this world? Who are we that would treat animals without care? Who are we that would withhold food from the hungry? Let us take responsibility for the spiritual production of our food, which is means caring ethically and environmentally for soils, waters, air, animals, poultry, crops and people.
Dear Lord, We thank you for the blessings of food, water, shelter, family and well-being. As we enjoy healthy food, we will think of those who struggle to feed their families every day. You taught us to pray. As we say “Give us today our daily bread” we make that prayer also for the millions who go hungry every day. You fed the hungry. Inspire in us the commitment to follow your example, showing compassion in action and sharing what we have with those who have less. You cared for all. Help us to remember your command to love one another. Help us to see you in each of our brothers and sisters – especially those who are in need. You are the Bread of Life. Strengthen us as we work for justice in the world. Help us to stand in solidarity with the poorest of the poor. You came so that we could have life and have it to the full. Our prayer is that this might be true for all. We pray that communities and governments recognise our shared responsibility to be more just in sharing the world’s resources. Help us to care more deeply, live more simply and share more fully. Amen
(A Prayer for Food – Caritas Australia)
Photo: County Cork, Republic of Ireland (My name is Dubh which means black in Gaelic - Cattle are more than a number on a tag, each one is known by name by God and loved)
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52.
The kingdom of heaven is like…
Most evenings, since the beginning of the Covid-19 Pandemic, I go for a walk with our dogs. We were walking home in the dark on Monday night and suddenly I got a waft of a wonderful familiar fragrance. I couldn’t see it, but I could smell it. It was Jasmine. Every time I have walked past since whether in darkness or daylight, I have stopped for a moment to breathe in the sweet fragrance of Jasmine.
In a society fixated with outward appearances, beauty, size, wealth and power, this week’s reading reminds all who ask, “What is the kingdom of heaven like?” that the kingdom of heaven/kingdom of God is something that is not easily recognisable or plain for all to see. It is like seeds sown in the dark earth; something that is at work without being noticed; something hidden from sight; something present but not always perceived. The kingdom of heaven may not be found in the things that we invest so much of our lives and energy into, nor may it be something that awaits us when we leave this life but in the parables Jesus is certainly telling us that the kingdom of heaven is here and now. So how do we turn our attention to the ways of the kingdom of heaven? How do we grasp the life of the kingdom?
When we see falling attendances at church services and churches closing and being sold, one could be tempted to conclude that the dream of the kingdom of heaven is over or it is just a fantasy. But the parables remind us of the hiddenness of the kingdom and encourage us, despite the outer appearances of a church that is shrinking, that the kingdom of heaven is still very much alive and growing. Seeds are still being sown, watered and nurtured and will produce an abundant harvest. The parables remind us not to equate the church with the kingdom of heaven and remind us to look outside the church for the signs of the kingdom at work and to look in unexpected places, even in small, dark and unimportant places by the world’s standards.
I listened to conversations with Sarah Kanowski on ABC Radio this week as she interviewed Rebecca McCabe, who recently left the Sisters of Mercy having been a nun for 26 years. Rebecca McCabe said that now that she is out of the life of the convent she has had more scope to explore her spirituality than she ever did. She said, "It was like there was a security there that held me, and I needed to step outside that to gain my own agency to redefine who I was and to re-evaluate — I suppose at the deepest level — what's meaningful in life." It seems strange to hear someone say that, yet sometimes we have to stop and search for that seed of life again and nurture it and be nurtured by it. How tragic it would be to spend our whole life in the life of the church and yet not grasp what the kingdom of heaven is about. How tragic to be consumed by power and wealth and beauty and numbers and miss the kingdom. How tragic to be driven by fear or busyness or ego or by the demands and expectations of others and not have the time to slow down, to stop and smell the flowers of the kingdom.
Prayer: Loving God, as I walk through this life may I smell the flowers of the fields as well as those that bloom in the garden. May I notice the flowers along my path; the flowers on the sunny hillsides and even the flowers in the dark valleys. May I notice those hard to find flowers in deserts and dry times in my life, and on the cold lonely winter days of my life, as well as in the Spring, Summer and the Autumn of my life. May I be aware of your kingdom all around me and may I give my attention to your ways and find your life and let your kingdom grow in me, within me and all around me. May I be a blessing sown in your garden, a sweet fragrance of life. Amen.
Photo: Flowers in the Burren, and Poulnabrone Dolmen, County Clare, Republic of Ireland
Minister of Campsie Earlwood Clemton Park Uniting Church Congregation