Over the course of a lifetime we all find ourselves facing challenges. They often make demands on us and are marked by uncertainty. Often, there is no clear path through what is called for although the intention is good and the goal is promising. In fact, the road to the goal is frequently full of twists and turns, the course, unclear.
These are our rough seas, our unsettling, stormy, difficult times. All of us in some way face such challenges, some of our own making, others are circumstances into which we simply fall. Such times call us to make tough decisions, crucial ones that have implications far beyond ourselves.
These challenges are often painful and even threatening, like the loss of a loved one or something affecting our health. We can be challenged by a change in work or our relationships. A whole community can be challenged when called to restructure or to do things differently. Such experiences demand a new way, evolving and changing even how we see ourselves. From all such experiences of life come the ways to growth and strength.
It is really no surprise that the Gospel writer Mark (4:35-41) uses the image of “rough seas” to point out some of the challenges the disciples faced in their faith. Such seas are common to the faith of us all. They come upon us often from the circumstances of our lives and they cause us to doubt, to question our disciple relationship with Jesus and the way we see God in our lives.
In Mark’s story, he points out that Jesus has been teaching widely to many, disciples and others. Now he calls the disciples to cross over to the other side of Sea of Galilee with him. During the crossing, a storm comes up and the threatens to swamp the boat. The disciples lose confidence and are overcome with fear. Jesus is asleep in the stern. In their fearfulness, they wake him up.
Why does Mark relate this story? This is a faith story. Discipleship is about relationships. Disciples follow Jesus in order to build their relationship with him. As they listen to what he says and watch what he does, they come to know Jesus better. In doing so, the relationship grows. Spending time with him deepens this. They trust him more and place their faith in him more deeply.
All relationships are about trust and faith. With great trust and deep faith, love emerges and grows. The disciples are growing into the closest of friends with Jesus and with one another. But as always, there will be challenges. Storms will come. The trust will be tested and the faith will be tried.
The Gospels relate the story of the evolving relationship of Jesus with his disciples and beyond. As the Good News evolves there will be times when the disciples show a waning faith. Their lives are not straight lines. There are many twists and turns.
Faith demands doubts. The circumstances of life will lead to questions, always. Blind faith is exactly that - it is blind. Without the questions and the doubts, our faith remains rigid and lifeless. Some 10 centuries ago, St. Anselm of Canterbury expressed this when he spoke of: “faith seeking understanding”. We are always seekers.
On the Sea of Galilee, the disciples faced a storm. Throughout their discipleship as they grew in their faith and relationship with Jesus, there would be many storms. Doubts and denials are part of the journey. Mature, adult faith is growing and evolving faith. There have to be questions and doubts in order that the seeker/disciple might have a faith that is growing and deepening. Faith is like any significant relationship. It will be ever-evolving. It will have its storms and doubts. It will also have its discoveries and growth.