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Intention: Maintaining Balance

In Mark 6:45-52, the author tells a wonderful story about Jesus walking across the water and subsequently calming the wind. Now, we know that people can’t walk on water, and certainly not in the midst of a strong wind and raging waves. Hence, it is important we understand this story from Mark as a metaphor.

Let's take a look at the backstory to this passage. Jesus just spent the entire day teaching 5,000 families. It was very late before they finished at which point Jesus loaded the disciples in a boat and sent them off, then dismissed the crowd and went up the mountain to pray.

When he was done, the story tells us that he saw the disciples in the boat offshore, worn out from rowing against the wind. Jesus walked on the water to go out to them, and is about to walk past when they see him and cry out. He reassures them that he is not a ghost. “Calm yourselves!” Jesus says, "Don’t be afraid.” And as he steps into the boat the wind dies down.

The beginning of this passage sets the perfect stage for the metaphor. Jesus often took time by himself to pray. It was a time for him to reconnect with his Source, to recenter, to ground himself, and to be re-energized for his ministry and mission. This time alone with God balanced him - mentally, physically and spiritually.

Seems to me that the strong wind the disciples were rowing against was a metaphor for all of the challenges they were up against: leaving their homes and businesses to follow Jesus, being presented with new ways of thinking and being, dealing with hostile authorities, handling the needs of huge crowds, perhaps enduring the disapproval of family and friends. I imagine the list of stressors for each of them was almost endless. Perhaps it felt like they were rowing against the wind and hardly ever getting anywhere. And, if you’ve ever tried to row against the wind, bike against the wind, or even walk into a strong wind for any amount of time, you realize that it exhausts you pretty quickly.

But Jesus has just spent time in prayer, centering and balancing, and he was able to metaphorically rise above the turbulent waves and walk easily through the wind. As he stepped into the boat, his words and his very presence brought back a sense of calm to the disciples. Whatever misgivings, concerns, fears and anxiety the disciples had about their mission and ministry, having their teacher with them once again settles them. 

Martin Luther, upon being asked one time by a friend what his plans were for the following day, replied, "Work, work from early until late. In fact, I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer." 

And, St. Francis de Sales once said, “Every one of us needs half an hour of prayer a day, except when we are busy – then we need an hour.”

Prayer, centering and getting balanced is typically the last thing we feel we have time for when we're overwhelmed with things to do. But the point is well taken, we function better, with more clarity, efficiency, and effectiveness, when we're coming from a place of balance within. 

There are many ways we are thrown off balance: too much to do, unexpected events, conflict, change in plans, death, illness, etc. When we're off balance we often feel out of control, uncertain, uncomfortable, anxious, afraid, “off”, depressed, rushed, stressed, not doing anything well, things are a chore and we feel no joy.

By balance I do NOT mean immoveable, like you can’t knock me over. If you’ve played a sport, you know that if you need to respond quickly and seamlessly, you need knees bent, weight equally distributed and sometimes even moving quickly from one foot to the next in order to be able to respond to whatever might come your way. Balance allows for flexibility because it is an interior sense of stability, of peace, of “okayness.” Balance also allows us to live more authentically, with aliveness, because we don’t get hung up on things we can’t control. Our inner landscape is stable and secure, so that we can react to what is going on around us with clarity and awareness without undo stress.

Consider the pitcher in a baseball game. As a pitcher you need to watch the action all around you and be able to quickly react to whatever unexpected play might happen. The more grounded, focused and calm you are, the better you’re able to handle the game. But if you are distracted, or off-balance in any number of ways, it will be harder for you to manage the game well.

Each of us typically knows when we’re out of balance, but do we know what gets us back in balance? What works to calm our soul and bring us back to balance. Certainly prayer and meditation, as Jesus modeled, can work vey well. But there are many other things that actually have meditative qualities that can bring a sense of calm back to us. Personally, when I find myself getting overwhelmed, stressed and anxious, I know I need a break. Often I'll take a walk outside, breathing in the fresh air and reminding myself that life is good. In the summer I may work in the garden for a bit. But there are other things like playing music, journaling, cooking, painting, quilting, knitting, playing a sport. These all work because we step off the hamster wheel, take a deep breath, find some perspective, and stop the incessant worrying by giving the brain something else to do.

I'd also like to share a story Anne Fullerton tells in Wayne Muller’s book “a life of being, having and doing enough.”

On a particularly hot summer day my father, Norman, 93 years old, got off the ferry on the little island where he has spent much of his life. The ferry from the mainland is the essential lifeline for everything and everyone; at “boat time,” people gather to see each other, catch up on the day’s activities, and make plans. Norman is a favorite on that island; he is always friendly and respectful, and he takes time to talk with everyone. His very limited eyesight and his lack of hearing have caused him to modify his interactions. Instead of his hearty ”Glad to see you,” he often will ask, “Tell me who you are,” so he has an idea to whom he is speaking.

On this particular day, as I was waiting for Norman to get off the ferry, I noticed he was making his way through the crowd, uncharacteristically trying to avoid contact with anyone, clearly searching for me. When I called to him, he reached for me and grabbed my arm. He propelled me up the ramp to the golf cart.

There he told me the story of his day. He had taken the ferry to town earlier in the day because he was having trouble with his dentures. The dentist kept his dentures to repair them and sent Norman off without them. So besides being legally blind and deaf, today he had no teeth. In this condition, he had already spent the day in town, wrestling with public transportation, navigating large grocery stores, and hailing cabs, forced to interact with many people.

This was a man who had, as a lawyer for an international airline, negotiated with the Russians, arranged contracts with the Chinese, and established agreements with African nations. Today he was an old man who couldn’t see or hear and had no teeth. He was ready to go home.

Before I could figure out what I could possible offer in the form of consolation or comfort, he turned to me, looked directly at me and said, simply: “You know, I’m learning to love what is.”

In addition to taking time to ground ourselves spiritually and emotionally, perhaps this is part of the key to remaining balanced: loving what is. It’s an acceptance of life as it is, even while we may be working toward life becoming all it can be. It is a change in perspective that brings balance.

As we seek to walk this Lenten journey intentionally, may it include ways to find and maintain our balance – spiritually, physically, mentally and emotionally. And may we also seek to love all that is.

Love & Light!