“Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the mighty waters; they saw the deeds of the Lord, his wondrous works in the deep . . . For he commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. They mounted up to heaven and they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their calamity . . .”
I love poems. Many poetry books grace my bookshelves. And psalms are poetry, too. In fact, all of this day’s Scripture is poetic: Whirlwind . . . waves of the sea . . . the Lord’s “wondrous works in the deep . . .” These are beautiful images from the natural world, but there is a deeper message.
The book of Job resonates with images that are poetic and full of mystery:
“The Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:
‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
I will question you, and you shall declare to me.
‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me if you have understanding.
‘Who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb? -
when I made the clouds its garment,
and prescribed bounds for it,
and set bars and doors,
and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stopped?’ ”
Job suffers. He is tormented and rebellious. Ultimately, he finds God in stars, weather, land, sea, beasts and birds. We might also find God in these awe-inspiring images. As it says in The Jerome Biblical Commentary: “Everywhere are marvels, everywhere is mystery.” Indeed, there are layers of mystery in everything. Calamity and whirlwinds in our lives are inevitable. But if we are humble, and realize God’s power, we’ll dive deeper into the Mystery that is God.
St. Paul says: “The love of Christ urges us on . . . Even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” I still long to know Jesus as human, but at the same time, I want to love him as Jesus Christ; as God. Paul encourages us to share this love of Christ in our relationships with others. Jesus brought love into the world in a radical life; he stretches our boundaries, too — not always in our comfort zone!
Sister Johanna d’Agostino, IBVM (Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary), writes in Living with Christ: “Like the apostles, how often do we fail to recognize Jesus’ presence when our lives are buffeted by adversity? It is only our belief in Jesus that enables us to weather the storms that wreak havoc in our lives. At such times, we have a choice: to seek Jesus through prayer or to lose hope. How strong is our faith? How strong is our hope in prayer? How focused are our eyes on the person of Jesus?”
These questions challenge us. And certainly we’re challenged by life’s upheavals and sufferings. Fear, anxiety, illness and other maladies are authentic crosses in our lives. We might turn to Jesus Christ like the disciples did on the boats. They are “filled with great awe” when Jesus saves them. They recover from a terrifying experience: the storm that threatens to throw them down into the depths of the sea. Jesus is asleep as they struggle to get the boats in order; they wake him up and say, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
We might ask this question when we’re in pain or anguish. And Jesus says, “Peace! Be still!” Even within suffering, we can manifest peace if we turn to Jesus Christ. Again, how strong is our faith? When Jesus stills the storm, he asks, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” Even in our trials and tribulations, we can say, “Who then is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?”
Suffering is another mystery in this life; it can bring us to the edge of despair and beyond. But prayerful, poetic messages in the psalms and scriptural passages do much to sustain us. They give us hope and yes, even joy.
“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 when it grew calm, and he brought them to their desired haven. Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to the children of Adam.”
Ah, the significance of poetry — that reminds me, I think my bookshelves are getting pretty full. In fact, they’re overflowing with poetry books. I’ll have to get my husband Dave to make more bookshelves!
Strachan is married with three grown children and lives in Nakusp, B.C. She is a Benedictine Oblate with St. Peter’s Abbey in Muenster, Sask., and a member of the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild.