There’s a wonderful biblical story about the disciples seeing Jesus strolling on a stormy Sea of Galilee. Peter decides to join him, only to falter, frightened by the strong wind, and begins to sink. He cries to Jesus, “Lord, save me!” Jesus comes to the rescue, chiding him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
I was helping with a spiritual formation course on discernment the week of the U.S. election. The morning after, sensing the downcast feelings of many if not most of us, instructor Marjorie Thompson (Soul Feast) began the class with a rhetorical question, “Does God still reign?” As I recall, she repeated it a couple of times for emphasis, smiling. “Does God still reign?” To the participants, however we felt about the election results, the answer was obvious. Yes, of course, God still reigns.
It reminded me of a visit to the Capitol Hill office of Mary Jane Patterson, the Presbyterian Church lobbyist in Washington, D.C., during the Reagan presidency. An African American longtime activist on behalf of all kinds of progressive causes, the plaque prominently displayed on her desk grabbed my attention, “This too shall pass.” My inquiry about it brought a mischievous smile and a twinkle of an eye to her face, and without a word, she communicated her hope about future administrations.
Teilhard de Chardin, whose essay “A Note on Progress” was the subject of my post last week, did not come to his faith in the future in a storm-free place, but rather, as a stretcher bearer in the trenches of World War I. In Christ of the Celts, J. Philip Newell reminded me of that:
As Teilhard wrote after the harrowing Battle of Ypres in 1915, “More than ever I believe that life is beautiful.” … As he agonized over what was happening between the nations and personally despaired about the direction of the world, he heard himself being addressed by Christ, “Ego sum, noli timere (It is I, be not afraid).”
These were the words the disciples heard when they witnessed Jesus walking on the waters of the storm on Galilee, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Fellow Jesuit scholar John McNeill (The Church and the Homosexual) experienced Christ also in the battlefields, that of World War II. As I wrote on this blog on the occasion of his death:
Being silenced by the church and then ousted from the Jesuits gave him the opportunity to fulfill a greater calling than he originally anticipated when, as a starving prisoner of war during WW II, a slave laborer, at risk of death from a vigilant SS guard, tossed him a potato, making the sign of the cross. John dated his priesthood from the moment of that courageous and compassionate act.
During the spiritual formation course on discernment, a participant came to me, her fear palpable, wondering what the election of Donald Trump and Mike Pence could mean for her and her partner. I had met this couple when they attended my course on Henri Nouwen earlier in the fall. I tried to assure her, but I’ve found similar apprehension among all kinds of people, even among likely Trump voters, who fear what this administration bodes for us.
It deeply troubles me how my hopes and so many others’ hopes in the future have been dashed.
“You’ll Never Walk Alone,” was my high school principal’s favorite song, and, with the school choir, The Chanters, I would sing it with passion and pride whenever we performed it for him. James B. Taylor, an African American, was very popular with students, faculty, and parents, but had been prevented from buying a home for his family in the neighborhoods surrounding the school, and this was in “liberal” California in the 1960s!
“When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high, and don’t be afraid of the dark,” the Rodgers and Hammerstein song from Carousel begins, and “though your dreams be tossed and blown,” concludes with the assurance, “You’ll never walk alone.”
“Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
“Does God still reign?”
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