Wednesday after Epiphany
Recently a vocation candidate shared with me the Japanese proverb: “If you want to cross the ocean you have to lose sight of shore.”
That’s a great image for the beginning of a monastic life but it’s true all along the way: we continually need to let the shoreline slip from view and entrust ourselves to the deep.
This happens every time we turn away from distraction and back to prayer…
We cling, fiercely at times, to a real or conjured mirage of shoreline because we’re terrified of disappearing in the vast ocean we sense is looming just the other side of our constant mental chatter.
Our attachments to pleasure, grief, resentment…all reinforce a sense of self that, while cramped and anxious, is at least a shore we recognize, something to steer by, and orient ourselves.
“God is love”: that is the shoreless ocean.
‘No one has ever seen God; God the Son has revealed him’; Jesus reveals God’s unconditioned, unconditional love in his teaching—how the Father makes his sun rise and rain fall on just and unjust alike—in his parables, especially the image of the father going out to embrace both prodigal and elder son— and above all in going to the cross while forgiving his enemies.
Jesus reveals the God who is light and in whom there is no darkness; he is himself the light of the world, shining still in the darkness of this world, and not overcome.
Jesus crucified is the one shoreline we can steer by, and hold onto; a limit that can open onto the shoreless ocean.
Touched by him, ‘We have come to know and believe in the love God has for us,’ in the reality of this terrifying, boundless, totally unconditioned ocean.
We come to experience with our whole being the exhilarating vertigo of having lost sight of the shore…and begun to believe in, to entrust ourselves to that boundless ocean and set out across its waters.
No one has ever seen God, no one can comprehend him, but Jesus has made the boundless present in the bounded, and ‘as he was, so are we in the world’; when we forgive our enemies, when we love as he loved, we become his presence in the world, light in darkness; when we do not judge we will not fear judgment.
Perfect love, including the practice of perfect love, casts out fear…fear of being judged, fear of punishment, fear of being hounded by the Censor we all carry in our heads.
The gospel today describes the disciples at sea in a terrible storm with no shoreline in sight.
The storm is raging out of control—and when Jesus appears he seems to them at first one more manifestation of chaos—a ghost!— they are even more frightened of him than of the storm! This is something worth pondering…
“Take courage, It is I, do not be afraid”… he steps into the boat, the boundless into the bounded, the wind drops, the waters grow calm: perfect love drives out fear.