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  • Weekly Reflections W09 T2 2018

    26 June, 2018

    The readings for last Sunday (Pentecost 5) included the last verses from Mark chapter 4. Jesus has taught and done lots and is understandably tired, so the disciples take their boat to the other side of the lake named Galilee.

    On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great gale arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’

    At every pilgrimage which I have led to the Holy Land, we have taken the tourist boat to the centre of the Lake/Sea of Galilee, stopped the engine and had this reading and reflection.
     

     

     
    In the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston was the painting below by Rembrandt, 'Storm on Galilee'.

    I say 'was' because it was stolen in 1990 and still remains hidden. It is a small painting for such a big subject, and the design is meticulous. The golden triangle stretches from the boat’s mast to the white waves crashing over the prow and in the rear, Jesus is just being rudely awakened by two terrified disciples. Meanwhile, one disciple is holding on grimly to the tiller, five are struggling with the sails, one crouches in fear in the rigging, another is emptying his stomach over the side and one huddles in the bottom of the boat. It is a dark reproduction and an internet download but I think I counted 13 disciples in the boat with Jesus. There is actually a break in the clouds already, giving a glimpse of Rembrandt’s famous light but the sailors are too frantic to notice. The storm continues to lash at them, and they are struggling with all their might to survive. Right in the middle of this little painting is a familiar face, a man holding tight to the rigging with one hand and on to his C17 hat with the other. Rembrandt has left us with enough self-portraits so that we can easily recognise his face, tiny though it is.

    The artist is saying ‘Look! I am in the boat as terrified as the rest of the disciples’. Rembrandt is inviting us to place ourselves on the boat too. So the storm continues to lash at us and we struggle with all our might to survive.

    This is Rembrandt’s only maritime painting, and water in the Scriptures represents chaos. These dark depths represent the chaos that was just before creation, the chaos that always lurks just out of sight beneath our world, over your shoulder. We are travelling across the flood that engulfed the world again in the time of Noah. We are only just out of reach of the sea monster which swallowed Jonah, and we can hear the pounding of the sea parted for a few hours by Moses’ raised stick, returning to close in on Pharaoh’s army.

    ‘Let not the floods overwhelm me or the depths swallow me up.’ Psalm 69:15.

    Our College Chapel has planking which can remind us of a boat – are we unknowingly, in some kind of boat - an ark?

    I shared this painting and observations with our men’s group at breakfast some weeks ago. I was just about to close off when one of the men asked our permission to say something and then proceeded to astound us by sharing his depression. His vulnerability immediately brought us all closer together. It’s a paradox how sharing a weakness can be a strength.

    I wonder what names you would give to those chaotic waves and dark currents which unknown to others you might feel as well? As members of the All Saints’ community, we are all in the boat together. Mark in his Gospel wrote to early Christians who would have identified easily with the men in the boat. Because, then and now, like it or not, winds and storms will come our way.

    Jesus was in the boat, so confident of God’s presence that he could fall asleep on a pillow. He isn’t Jonah, running away from God’s command, so the disciples don’t have to throw him overboard. He is doing exactly what the living God wants. What do we expect this man to do when we wake him? A small miracle? There is no such thing as a small miracle when we are confronted by this watery terror. If he wakes and calms the storm then we may well find ourselves more terrified than before. Who wants to be out on a stormy sea but then who wants to be sharing a boat with almighty God who is more powerful and therefore more terrifying than any wind or wave? Once you awaken this one you are not likely to get much peace ever again! I think this I can see why Rembrandt painted this subject so small – it could very easily get out of hand.

    Having said all this, in the end, they arrive on the other side of the lake. Words from Psalm 107 reflect:

    Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out from their distress; he made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad because they had quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven.

    I would put it to you that we, at the end of this term, are arriving on the other side of the lake. We have experienced storms and crashing waves, we have lost some overboard but gained others. Was Godspell a storm? No one can say for sure but we do know that there is one with us who is in control. Let’s not forget Christ whatever time of life we are in.

    Wishing you a restful break.

    Father Paul Woodhart.

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