Calming the Storms Within
June 17, 2021
A great windstorm 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 . . .
If you attend an Episcopal church this Sunday, you’ll hear the story of how Jesus calmed a tumultuous sea with his words. “Who is this,” the disciples ask one another in awe, “that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Reflecting on this story at our diocesan staff meeting, several of us were just as impressed by Jesus’ ability to take a nap in the midst of the storm. What a necessary skill to cultivate, we realized, in a world in which storms keep coming.
Hazel Monae, EDOW’s Missioner for Equity and Justice, then told us of a book she planned to use in her devotions this summer, which I immediately added to my own reading list: Just Because You're in a Storm Doesn't Mean the Storm has to be in You by Pastor Kirk Byron Jones.
Before Jesus quieted the storm, he quieted himself. This placed him in a position to bring peace to the storm. Through stillness, deliberately resting our souls in God’s grace, we may bring peace to our storms, hushing their turbulent impact on us, and blessing on blessing, perhaps even causing them to offer up surprise wisdom through their contrary winds.1
The image of resting, seeking stillness, even sleeping in a storm is a good one to meditate on this summer, not as an excuse for escapism or complacency, but as God’s promise that we can live with peace at the center of our being even as we are called to purposefully engage the turbulence around us.
We also need the grace to rest in a storm whenever we’re faced with important decisions and we feel pulled in many directions at once.
For example, in our congregations we’re discovering that it’s actually harder to re-emerge from pandemic imposed restrictions than it was to impose them. Church consultant Susan Beaumont writes:
The beginning of the pandemic was overwhelming, but our focus was clear. The boundaries marking what we could not do provided clarity. Now, in-person engagement is returning, and we face another kind of overwhelm--too many options. How do we make choices when some boundaries have been removed, but not everything is possible?2
Beaumont suggests that we need to shift from a decision making mindset to one of discernment, so that we might intentionally engage the Holy Spirit for wisdom. “What needs to happen next,” she writes, “may be larger than the limits of human understanding. We need to be led by the future itself.”
Beaumont’s entire article is worth reading, yet one piece of her wisdom particularly caught my attention. At the end of whatever discernment/decision-making process we engage in, she suggests that we test our decisions with rest. “Before your choice is shared, sit with your choice in stillness and prayer...Ask yourselves if the decision reflects Holy Spirit wisdom.”
In all realms of life, testing our decisions with rest is incredibly helpful. For good reason, we often hear ourselves say that we need to sleep on a decision before acting on it. Not only does rest give the intuitive sides of our brains time to do their work, it affords the Holy Spirit space to speak to us in stillness. Rested, we can face what lies before us with greater strength and less exhaustion.
Again, think of Jesus sleeping in the storm. When he awoke, he was ready and had all of his faculties--human and divine--at full strength. In that moment, he may well have needed more rest than his short nap afforded, as if often the case for us. But as Byron Jones points out, Jesus made a practice of intentionally stepping away from the demands of his life in order to rest and pray. “Without question, Jesus was a mighty engager,” he writes. “He willingly faced life with all of its needs, challenges, and complexities. But the fact of the matter is that Jesus, the mighty engager, was also a master of retreat.”3
In order to live well and do good in a world of constant storms, we, too, need our times of rest and renewal. In some seasons of life, such rest will come only in small bits on the edges of our days; while in others, we are blessed with longer stretches of time. Paradoxically, it takes practice to rest well, especially when we have acclimated to a life rhythm of constant action and crisis response.
After all we’ve been through, this is a summer to practice rest, in whatever forms our lives allow. The storms will keep coming and the important work before us will always demand our best efforts and wisest decisions. Jesus shows us that sometimes the best way to prepare and to respond is by first taking a nap.
1 Jones, Kirk Byron. Just Because You're in a Storm Doesn't Mean the Storm has to be in You: A Meditation for Trying Times (pp. 24-25). Soaring Spirit Press. Kindle Edition.
3 Jones, p. 13.