Saturday, January 09, 2016

Caught in the undertow

I spent most of my sixteenth summer on west side of Michigan, not far from Traverse City, with a friend and her family. Every year this family rented a spacious cottage in a resort community that rested on a small private inlet lake which connected to a beach on Lake Michigan.

One day we all went to the beach on the Lake Michigan side. It was a beautiful warm day, with small but vigorous waves. The usual freezing lake water had warmed over the summer to a perfect temperature for swimming. After lounging in the sun, on the pristine white sand, I decided to go for a dip in the lake. The water was a clear blue. I swam out into the deeper water and then turned back to shore. I was standing in water, about waist high, when something knocked me off balance and I fell into the water. I felt myself being pulled under the water by a force stronger than myself. I managed to stand up, only to be pulled under, again. I tried to move toward shore but instead I was being pulled out into the lake. I was disoriented by the weird pull, tugging me into and under the water, and I couldn’t figure out what was going on.

After several rounds of falling, standing, pulling under, in a vain effort to move to the shore one of my companions noticed what was happening. He waded into the water and was able to pull me out.  It was only when we were finally sitting on our towels in the sand that I fully realized how helpless I had been, completely submissive to the power of that undertow.

There are many occasions in life when we are caught in an undertow, emotional, physical, or spiritual. These occasions may not be life threatening but they can leave one feeling overwhelmed, helpless, vulnerable, or angry, lost, or full of despair. Last week I mentioned that I had unsubscribed from every move on dot org group, every political or social justice group that sends me emails because I am tired of their message of doom and gloom. I don’t want to get sucked into the undertow of todays news, social, and  political arena. I want to start 2016 with a new perspective, one that helps me focus less on angst and more on peace. By this I mean the peace of Christ, which is a particular kind of peace. 

Many years ago, when I was in the ordination process, we were required to attend a discernment weekend. It was a much dreaded weekend filled with a variety of “opportunities” for a group of strangers to discern if one had a “call,” in part by assessing if one was capable of managing the complex nature of ordained ministry. The weekend included one-on-one interviews and group sessions.

 In one group session we were all asked a specific question that focused on some aspect of how we had been perceived by the listening team. My question was, “What does the peace of Christ mean to you?” I went all clammy and squirmed in my seat before I launched into, what I hoped would be, a reasonable, heart-felt, honest answer. Some people left that weekend being told that no call to ordained ministry was heard, others were told they had more work to do, and some of us were given the go-ahead to proceed in the process. I have forgotten much about that weekend, except I still think about that question, “What does the peace of Christ mean to you?” In the twenty years since that weekend I have continued to try to understand what the peace of Christ means to me. No doubt the answer has changed over time, but it is still a good question for me consider. 

This morning’s reading from Isaiah is intentionally paired with the story of Jesus’ baptism in the Gospel of Luke. The readings point us to consider the assurance of God’s love for us, which was Isaiah’s message to the Israelites who had suffered much. And, as Christians, the Gospel of Luke helps us understand how God’s love is fully revealed in Jesus. In the chapters that follow today’s reading from Luke’s Gospel we hear that after his baptism Jesus prayed, then he was sent by the Spirit into the wilderness where he was tempted for 40 days, upon his return he begins to teach and lead people into a deeper understanding of God.

There are any number things to lift up from the readings today, but central is the idea that the assurance of God’s love in our lives is not a divine license to do whatever we want nor to behave any way we wish. We are not to judge others, we are not to treat others with prejudice, bigotry,  arrogance, or mean spiritedness. Rather God’s assurance of love in our lives is an invitation, a choice we can make to be different from the pulls of the world. It is an invitation to anchor one’s self in the peace of Christ. 

Centering prayer, silent prayer, helps me find the peace of Christ, pulls me out of the undertow of life’s anxious moments and gives me strength and stamina, to wade through the rivers of life, to resist the current, until I can rest in calmer waters. 

I wonder, what does the peace of Christ mean to you, how do you seek to find it, and where might it lead you in the year ahead?

(a reflection on the readings for Epiphany 1C, The Baptism of Jesus: Isaiah 43:1-7, Luke 3:5-17, 21-22)


Revalli said...

I do so remember that weekend--in the Diocese of El Camino Real. Had I not been a committed swimmer before hand, I surely would have been afterwards.

Where do you find peace? How do you get through the darkness?--questions the scripture forces us to confront. Thanks. Nice job.

Monica said...

I love your phrase "to anchor yourself in the peace of Christ" as well as the undertow image. Thanks for sharing! And the dog photo is super cute. :)

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