Christ on the Sea of Galilee, Eugène Delacroix, oil on canvas, 1841.
Mark 4:35-41, Jesus Stills a Storm

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 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; 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?”

I love this painting by Eugène Delacroix. The disciples are clearly freaking out over this storm. One of them is leaning over the edge of the boat, like “NOooooooo.” Another seems to be trying to hold the waves back with his bare hand. My favorite is the dude that has his arms flailing over his head all like “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaack.”

And then there is Jesus. Sound asleep. His robe looks like a trusty blankie, wrapped over his head. He only calms the storm after his disciples wake him in fear.

Mark 4:35-41 is one of those passages that can be interpreted in so many ways. I looked up a few, and most of them say something along the lines of “sometimes you can feel like your life is a raging storm. But never forget that Jesus is asleep in your boat.” And then they go in one of two directions:

  • call out to Jesus and he will wake and help you and make everything better
  • be like Jesus and go curl up next to him and sleep through the storm too

Neither of those interpretations sit well with me. People die in storms all the time. Boats capsize. People go overboard and drown. And what, Jesus is asleep?

Furthermore, what is this storm supposed to be a metaphor for anyway? Because there are a lot of storms raging in our society right now – inequality, injustice, violence, the pandemic. It sometimes (most of the time?) feels like whatever Divine presence is out there is asleep on the job. We certainly shouldn’t sleep through these social problems. And we shouldn’t sit back and wait for God to fix everything either.

Then there are the personal storms we weather, like illness, strife, isolation, and despair. Sometimes I feel like my boat is jerry-rigged and the ocean is a tsunami. My little boat is about to capsize and Jesus is asleep in the stern. And maybe the storm is a metaphor for my inner turmoil; the storm raging inside me.

I am reminded of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism:

  1. Suffering exists
  2. The root of all suffering is not in the objective conditions, but in our cravings, ignorance, and aversions towards them
  3. To get rid of suffering you have to let go, to remove these attachments
  4. The eightfold path is your blueprint for how to do this

So going back to the storm metaphor, we only think that the cause of our suffering is the storm. Yes, the storm represents a real danger and it needs to be dealt with. Get the water out of the boat. Save the people who are drowning. Build a better boat. However, if we can also learn to let go of our attachments and aversions, the storm may still rage but we will not be afraid.

There will always be storms. If we want to get rid of suffering, we need to learn to let go. To be so calm, cool, and collected in the midst of all that outer turmoil that we could curl up and take a nap.

Easy peasy right?

In Buddhism, that’s where the eightfold path comes in. It is a blueprint for how to achieve this nonattachment. For Christians, it is The Way: to follow the path and example set by Jesus. You know, if you examine them both, you’ll find that there is a lot of overlap between the Eightfold Path (Right Understanding, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration) and the Way of Jesus.

One more thing: Jesus may have slept through the storm, but he did not sleep through his disciples’ cries. When they reached out for Divine assistance, it was only then that their stormy seas became calm.

After all, you’re not going to be able to do much to help the people around you or work towards building a better boat if you’re just standing there with your arms flailing above your head.

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