Storms are a major symbolic theme of this week’s scripture reading seen both in the Old Testament reading from the Book of Job as well as the Gospel reading from Mark.
A little historic background: water was always a paradoxical symbol in the Hebrew mindset. Water was seen as a sign of goodness. One needed water to live, you needed to drink water to survive, farmers needed to water plants for them to grow. Nevertheless, water was also seen as a sign of evil. People drowned, sailors went out to sea and never returned. Typhoons and hurricanes could destroy people as well as property, plus in the ancient mind, storms were seen as the battle between the forces of good and evil within the nature of the world.
Our current society and the people within it are facing their own particular storm, many of which are internal storms. I’d like to borrow some fonts from authors Brent Curtis and John Eldridge and their book The Sacred Romance, Drawing Closer to the Heart of God.
For hundreds of years our culture has been losing His story. The age of Enlightenment dismisses the idea that there is a great author, but nevertheless tries to hang onto the idea that we still could have a larger story, a life of purpose. Western culture rejected mystery and transcendence and placed all of its confidence in pragmatism. Progress in all pillars during the age of reason occurred. But once we rid ourselves of the author, it did not take us long to realize we had also lost the larger story as well.
We are always trying to look to be into something greater than ourselves. This is what gives us life. This is also what is behind much of what we’re seeing here locally with interest in things like Walking with Purpose for the women, the gospel reflection for the men, the Called and Gifted Spiritual Inventory Assessment from Catherine of Siena Institute and the Endow Women’s Groups out of Colorado.
But desperate for something larger to give our life transcendence, we often find ourselves in storms as alluded to in the Gospel. What are the types of storms in which we might find ourselves?
One type of storm is the victim. Our life is a tragedy, a product of cruel circumstances. This is an immensely popular line in our American society today because it relieves people of having to take real responsibility for their own lives. They can demand to be heard and demand that their victimhood issues need to be addressed, but society does not dare require anything of them in the risk of being labeled unfeeling or bigoted or racist.
A second type of storm involves the survivor. Our world is a somewhat capricious and unpredictable place so the survivor will simply take a little risk and protect themselves and cut themselves off from others. The problem is in doing this, is that they also cut themselves off from their own dreams and their own hopes and achieving any kind of greatness. It’s safe, but in the end it leaves a person feeling empty and shallow, someone who does not like themselves much.
The third storm is to engage in the search for romantic love that somewhere out there is that soul-mate who will sweep you off your feet take your breath away and life becomes one idyllic adventure of ecstasy. It is a very popular false transcendence of our day especially with women. Just look at the tremendous sexiness of novels by Danielle Steel and 50 Shades of Gray. Our current divorce rate is proof enough that this story is also short-lived, short sighted and an illusion.
For men the storm of false transcendence is sports. Men pursue their longings for adventure through their own recreational activities or lose themselves vicariously in favorite players and teams or in their own children’s sports programs. Business and work can also become the substitute for the “big game” as well. Winning the big contract, being number one and on top can be for men a means to achieve a sense of transcendent accomplishment.
The final storm involves “the religious” man or “the religious” woman. This is a popular way to reduce the uncertainties of life by making a contract with God that will grant you an exception from life’s difficulties. Through doctrinal adherence, moral living, spiritual experiences, we try to tame God in order to tame our own life. The problem is that our deepest yearning never goes away and we get an awareness that God is not cooperating or that this system isn’t working or we are not doing something right. So we chase after the next church, the next church leader, the next religious program, the next mystical experience to try and show ourselves how to reach that religious nirvana and achieve some peace in our hearts.
Eldridge and Curtis say that, the reason that the storms are not caught in any of these examples is that we are chasing after an illusion. None of these offers the real thing. We are demanding strength and gratification, but what we are really searching for a larger story in which we can live and find our own particular room, purpose and destiny.
So what is the antidote? First of all, realize that your entire life actually makes sense, every part of it. You must also realize that an important and essential part of your life is about both the good and the bad. Eldridge and Curtis call this the life of “the romance and the arrows.” The bad does not mean that you’re doing anything necessarily wrong, the good does not mean that you’re doing things right. In the midst of the polarity of the storms of good and evil lies a life of mystery, holiness and wonder of God’s self-disclosure. They are part of the plot through which God redeems our hearts in a very personal way.
Second, we’re dealing with the idea of “resignation.” What is that? It is a point at which we arrive when we realize we are defeated and we simply stop fighting and say okay, enough, I give up. It’s a point where we turn to another person who is bigger and stronger and wiser and say show me how to do this, and the other accomplishes the task for us. This is what the relationship with Christ is ultimately all about. It’s not about what we do. It’s about what God does for us.
Audio version of the homily is here: