Time to be afraid?

Text: Luke 8:14-25 (Jesus stills a storm)

When I looked at the long-range weather forecast last week, I felt a shiver of fear. Ten days in which it never gets above -20 degrees, with the overnight low forecast to be -34 on Tuesday?

I know that Edmonton is the most northerly city in the Western Hemisphere and that our winters often have extended cold snaps. Last month, the Edmonton Journal ran a story about the winter of 69 – 50 years ago – in which the temperature never got above -20 degrees from January 7 to February 2. But even though this is the ninth winter in which I have lived in the prairies, a span of ten days in which the temperature never goes above -20 still seems extreme to me.

But then I suppose without fear, one cannot show courage. This means that living in Edmonton during the winter can feel like an exercise in courage for me. Wish me luck over the next week . . .

As you know, fear has a lot of negative consequences. One of them is how it can make time seem to drag. When you experience a blessed night of deep and dreamless sleep, the night goes by in a flash. But when you awaken to toss and turn, the night can seem to stretch forever.

Today’s Gospel story is about fear and courage. As Jesus and his friends sail across the Sea of Galilee, Jesus is sleeping comfortably through a fearsome storm. When his friends awake him, he calms the storm and then rebukes them for their lack of faith.

This story resonates with the first time I went on a week-long canoe trip in Ontario’s Algonquin Park. Before the first one in 2002, I was scared. I worried about my back, my digestion, the physical rigors of portaging and paddling, the heat, the cold, the mosquitoes, and living in community with 15 strangers.

In the end, I loved every minute of it. In facing those fears, I realized that faith is not about avoiding the things that cause us to worry. It is about trust in our bodies despite their fragility; trust in the earth despite its indifference to us puny humans; trust in community despite the brokenness and pain we all bring to relationships; and trust in the God who is the Ground of Being, Life, and love.

After the first day, my fears dissolved and a sense of calm came over me. With grace, I had sunk into a state of faith.

Time felt different, and the week seemed to last forever. But it was not an interminable stretch of worry. It was a string of timeless moments. The week reminded me of the summers of childhood in which each delicious day was its own eternity and the resumption of school in September seemed impossible.

When we worry about the future or focus on regrets about the past, time slows down in ways that can be painful. But when we trust life, time can disappear. In this state, time probably feels the same whether one is nine-years-old or ninety.

Jesus accuses his friends of a lack of faith. He is not suggesting that the things they fear aren’t real. On the contrary, Jesus know that when they get to Jerusalem, he will confront religious and imperial rulers and be killed by them.

Instead, Jesus is suggesting that fear is not the only way to respond to things we don’t like. Sometimes with grace, we can rise about our fears into union with the divine. In this timeless state, we know that we are healed despite everything. We know that we are free to live into our sacred values.

When we remember that ego is an illusion and that our unity with the rest of humanity and the cosmos is real, we may no longer have time to be afraid. Instead, to quote English poet William Blake, we might see heaven in a wild-flower and experience eternity in an hour.

Someone once said that worrying is like praying for things we don’t want. Jesus directs us to focus instead on the grace always available to us, which is a timeless life within the heart of God.


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