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.