Rev. Diane K. Hooge
Early in our marriage Ken and I moved to Nova Scotia. We made the journey in our VW van with a port-a-crib that replaced the middle seat, where our 11 month old son traveled for the 13 day camping trip that took us to from Oregon to Nova Scotia. Our two Samoyed dogs traveled in the back, and our cat, who produced a litter of kittens in the tent on the second night out was housed in a box under the porta-crib. Teaching jobs were tight in the US and Nova Scotia offered a tax break for those who would move to Canada to teach. Ken had been hired as a High school teacher. Now, when I dare to tell this story I think, “What were we thinking?”
It was a radical change in culture. It was a challenging time, and yet, I still become overwhelmed with gratitude for the fellow teachers and spouses in that school that reached out to welcome us, in spite of their disdain for some of our nation’s military policies. We loved watching the fishing boats that came in with huge barrels of scallops, and the hard working rugged fisherman with their fishing boats that sat in small coves in villages around the province.
Many years later, Ken and I took a trip back to Nova Scotia on what we defined as our “roots tour.” Roots tours enable us to review our history and to celebrate having made it through the tough times and offer gratitude for those relationships in our lives that made a difference. We had made reservations at Mahone Bay, a town that has a deep history as a fishing village. It was pouring down rain, we were delayed by the ferry and the weather and on one of the darkest night’s I ever remember and without a GPS, we slowly made our way through the village. We arrived late at night at our Bed and Breakfast. We were sent upstairs to our bedroom. We were the only guests that night.
As the storm continued through the night, I did not sleep. It wasn’t because of the storm, but because of a presence in the room. I could make out the image of an elderly woman with round steel rimmed glasses pacing the porch, looking out at the water. She seemed to be holding a baby in her arms. Now, I’m usually not comfortable including woo-woo pieces in my sermons– but on that night, I became very clear that she had lost a son in a storm, and she was carrying her son’s child.
In the morning, I tried to carefully ask a couple of questions…the husband then called to his wife and said “I think she’s encountered our ghost.” He then took me to a framed copy of a newspaper article that spoke of all the deaths of the town’s fishermen who had been lost in a horrendous storm at sea. Several of them were related to the previous owners of the home that had now been turned into a Bed and Breakfast. He showed me the round metal edged glasses that had been found in the attic.
The Gospel of Mark was written for the Church either before or just after the destruction of Jerusalem. The people had a good reason to believe that they were sinking. They were threatened by the forces of chaos, confusion and violence. They had experienced the loss of family and members of the community.
We know that the boat has been symbolic of the Church.
Jesus has had a long day teaching the crowds. He was in need of a break. He initiated a trip across the sea. We’re told that there were several boats making the trip. The number of followers was growing. Going to “the other side” is significant piece of the story. He and the disciples are leaving home, their Jewish community, and are headed for the country of the Gerasenes—Gentile territory. I imagine that there was a lot of angst within the group as they headed off knowing that the trip could result in them entering a very dangerous situation.
Jesus is clearly at ease with the experienced fisherman that are taking charge of the journey, so he heads down to the back of the boat and puts out the Do Not Disturb sign.
What we are graphically shown is the reality of what takes place when one defies the systems of one’s day and crosses boundaries. Chaos is a part of the journey. Shipwreck is a strong possibility. When one tampers with gender, race, class, political, theological or cultural differences, the outcome can be incredible storms. And, crossings by their very nature tend to pull us like an undertow into violent upheaval.
We can identify with this story, can’t we? Many of us operate at maximum capacity, don’t we? Families with children juggle careers, child care, school meetings, grocery shopping, sports programs and doctor appointments. We often find ourselves caught between concerns for our children and concerns for the needs of aging parents. Just having to get the oil changed in our car can cause the winds to get stirred up. A seemingly mundane question like, “Did you remember to get the milk?” can create some choppy waters. And, then, some loss like a death, divorce, a diagnosis, or job loss creates a raging storm that places us in a precarious place on the water—and life gets changed dramatically. Sometimes life is so altered that we are forced to live in a radically new way.
As a church community, we are in the midst of a crossing. We’re five months into the journey. And, if we had a panel of Interim Pastors with us this morning, I suspect that one or more of them would affirm that around the fifth month in an interim crossing one can predict a good storm.
I spoke with the Search Committee this past week and said there are many folks in this congregation who have never gone through the process of having a pastor resign. A high percentage of the congregation have joined this church during the past five years. Many of you have only known Pam Shepherd as pastor, and yet we now have members who never met her. The church Council, who are a solid group of folks, are working hard to figure out how best to lead to get to the other side…the other side meaning having a new settled pastor installed. They are looking at the processes of the church. How will their roles change during this transition year that will influence the skills and abilities that they will be hoping to find in the new pastor?
The Search Committee is working hard to prepare to implement small group listening times when they can find out what your hopes and dreams are for the future of this church.
So, in the midst of these changes, along with the search for a new Administrator, comes another shift in the winds. The resignation of Chris Bingham brings in the need to adjust the sails again. Do we desire for him to find a place where he can utilize his classical music training, absolutely. Do we support him in having more time with his family, yes! And, our community is now dealing with another layer of change.
Perhaps, just perhaps, the biggest storms we create are the ones we create with our anxiety. Our most profound fears come with loss or anticipatory loss.
I can appreciate how irritating it must have been for the disciples, who were fully aware of their dangerous situation, wondering if the boat would hold together…fully aware of other boats that had gone under. When the disciples finally decided to wake up Jesus, they wanted his presence. They wanted comfort—they wanted help! In our humanness, we fear disapproval, rejection, failure, meaninglessness—we fear the loss of what we treasure the most. We fear the demise of the communities we love.
In the midst of the scrambling fishermen, Jesus asks, why are you afraid…He doesn’t say, “There is nothing to be afraid of.” The fearsome things are very real…and, God is more powerful. Soon we will be reading the texts of Advent, where we hear the angel’s words over and over, “Be not afraid.” In the midst of our humanness we, as a community of faith, are slogging through all the changes that come with making a major crossing. We may have differences of opinions on which path to take, but our unity comes with trusting the one who has promised to be with us always. I wonder if Jesus words to the sea weren’t meant for all of us. Peace! Be still. Then came the silence…the calm.
One of the most popular classes to be held in this community is our faith journey class where someone tells the story of their spiritual journey and the community gathers around to listen and learn. The gift of the stories, is that we get to hear the places of doubt and fears that emerged along the journey and we hear the gratitude and grace that the divine offered that individual and we can relate. It taps into our own stories. It offers us the gift of deeper connections with the storyteller, and we often find that our appreciation for them is deepened. Our time in Nova Scotia, as challenging as it was, was also a building block time for us in our marriage and our family life. Yet sometimes, it takes years to look back on the storms of our lives and see the growth that came through the ravages of the storm.
Physician Rachel Naomi Remen, in her book, My Grandfather’s Blessing writes about how she has observed that some people in the midst of overwhelming illness have experienced a reduction in their stress level. She comments that “Some people seem to have found through their suffering a deep sense of what is most important to them, and the courage to bring their lives into alignment with it for the first time. Rather than using their strength to endure situations and relationships that betray their deepest values, they have used their strength to make needed change.”
In the midst of this community journey, may we support one another as we make the crossing together. May we stay awake and listen for the Divine mystery that comes to us often when we least expect it.
Be not afraid. God is still speaking. Amen.