The Storm

So many people knew him and all have their different stories to tell but I like to think he was my own very special friend and there are things that I heard and saw that no-one else knows. Things that might not matter to anyone else but mean so much to me.
I’m thinking of the day of the storm. Sudden storms on the lake are not unusual but this one was particularly bad and I was there in the boat with them. Jesus had been talking to a group on the shore and word must have got around for more and more people kept joining the crowd and those nearest the edge were in danger of being pushed into the water. Jesus got into the boat and used that to teach from; everyone was too busy concentrating on him to notice me. I shouldn’t have been there really but I loved the boats and the water and if I’d been a boy I would have been a fisherman like the rest of them.
When he had finished teaching, Jesus was tired; he needed to get away from the crowds and asked the men to pull away from the shore. Uncle James would have sent me home but Abba John distracted him; he’d sometimes pretend he hadn’t noticed I was there and let me stay. It was our boat Jesus was in on this occasion; often it was Simon’s he would use like that time when they went and caught all those fish. But I’d never have had the chance to go out with them if it hadn’t been our boat.
Sometimes I wonder if Jesus did it deliberately just for me. It’s a fanciful thought, I know, but sometimes the way things work out really make it seem that certain coincidences are too important to be left to chance and that there must be a guiding hand behind it all. It wouldn’t matter to anyone else whose boat they went in; several of the friends came along just for the ride; they weren’t out to fish. But it was such a very special experience for me and has continued to influence my life.
It was a very calm evening as we set out; the sun was going down, the bustle of the day dying away and smoke from the first of the cooking fires could be seen rising straight up. I should have been at home in the kitchen getting our fire ready but Abba John had let me stay and Jesus smiled at me in a way that told me he understood how important it was. I watched as he lay his head down, closed his eyes and fell asleep.
I loved to watch him. Mostly I used to look at his eyes; eyes that held all the wisdom of the world, had counted the stars, seen the depths of the earth yet focused so intently on any one individual before him. Even a bird or a flower would capture his undivided attention. So it was strange to see him asleep. Did he dream of the kingdom of God? I gazed at his face searching for clues but all I could see was peace.
There is something vulnerable about a sleeping man. I don’t know why I felt it even more intently with him; it’s tempting to look back and read things into the situation; I’m a mother and a grandmother now, I know how it feels to look on a baby born into troubled times and fear for its future. But I didn’t know then. Yet that’s the emotion I felt. I gazed on his peaceful, trusting face and a shiver ran through me.
Perhaps it wasn’t a glimpse of eternity, jumping ahead of time, a premonition. Maybe it was only the start of the storm, the cooler air of the valley making the hairs stand up on my arms. Clouds were gathering; the light failing far faster than the sun was sinking. The water was dark and becoming restless.
A gust of wind caught at my hair. The boat lurched. The men shifted position; they knew about this sort of thing. Jesus slept on. It was exhilarating rather than frightening at that point. Experienced men battling against elemental forces. It wasn’t uncommon to hear them tell of these squalls. No-one wanted to get caught in them; boats did capsize and people got drowned but they’d been caught before and survived. Many times.
And Jesus wasn’t worried; he didn’t even stir when the water started coming over the side and filling the bottom of the boat. But something changed. I had to move out of the way and a look passed between some of them. I felt rather than saw it, it was too dark to see much but a flash of lightning illuminated Abba John’s face and I knew he was agreeing with the others that I shouldn’t be there. He was scared. The men were scared. Fear passed from one to another like an animal sniffling around for food.
I crept closer to Jesus but my movement attracted the creature’s attention. Resentment joined the fear that snapped at their heels. ‘Master’, they cried, ‘Don’t you care if we drown?’ He sat up, looked around at the storm then concentrated on them and their fear. He stood up. ‘Peace. Be still,’ he said. The way they tell the story, it was the wind and the waves he spoke to and certainly the storm abated from that moment. But I wonder if it wasn’t their fearful hearts he meant to address.
He settled down again and, thinking he was asleep, they began to whisper. Who was this person who could command the elements in a way known only to God? Awe had replaced terror but it was still a kind of fear that filled these strong men and rendered them weak. He knew it. And he knew that I knew. It was our secret.
The gentle, seemingly sleeping Jesus and me, barely out of childhood, were stronger in our shared knowledge than these heroes of the sea. The memory has sustained me through many troubled years of my long life but my days are drawing to a close and it’s time to pass my secret on.