As the sun beaks through
on a cloudy day
So may your light break through
to our world.
Not waiting for
Yet waiting on…
do, or say, or go
Yet content to simply be.
The difference between
waiting for and waiting on.
One of those phrases
that sticks in the mind
That somehow hints
of faith to be ‘had’
But faith’s not a thing
to have or to hold
It’s a leaving go
an action of trust
Of relinquishing fear
and letting things be.
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.
I read somewhere
That the prime purpose of humans
Is to worship God.
Why, God, I pondered
Should you need me to worship you?
You who are All and Everything?
I don’t, he replied
As I’d barely finished the question
It’s you who needs it
To be fully human.
Lord, I will sit on the sand
I will sit in the sunshine of Thy presence
And I will wait
I will wait and I will listen
Listen to the sound of the waves
The sound of Thy power in the world
I will sit
I will listen
I will wait
I look around
The sky is blue, the clouds are white
Thy presence shines warm on my heart
I will wait in Thy warmth
And my heart will open
I will sit
I will listen
I will wait
Lord, come sit with me
Come pray with me
Come be with me
On this day let’s ask:-
Do we stand gazing into heaven
oblivious of the needs around us?
Do we rush off trying to solve the world’s problems
in our own strength?
Do we catch a glimpse of heaven as our goal
then await God’s power as instructed
and quietly do His will?
If he comes alongside you,
If you sense his presence,
Your heart burns at his words,
Will you invite him in?
You know how it is when something momentous and unexpected happens. That feeling of devastation, the coming to terms with the fact that life will never be the same again. The worrying round and round. Speculation that never quite succeeds in throwing any light on exactly what happened, or why, or what it will mean for the future.
Well that was how it was that day as we travelled home from Jerusalem. We repeated the facts, such as we knew them, to each other over and over. We wondered aloud how everything could change in such a short time. Jesus was popular with the people; we loved to listen to his stories. They weren’t just idle tales; somehow he always left you looking at the world differently, questioning the most ordinary things, seeing something of worth in people you wouldn’t normally notice.
He was actually a man of deep peace so it is strange that he seemed to cause such violent feelings amongst the religious leaders. Perhaps there is some truth in the suggestion that he threatened their authority. Somehow these leaders managed to stir up the crowd to call for his death. Where were his friends while this happened?
We liked to regard ourselves as his disciples but we weren’t part of the inner circle like Peter, John and the others. Was it true that one of them had betrayed him? It didn’t seem possible yet that’s what people were saying. Then there were rumours that some of the women claimed to have seen him alive. Or had seen angels who said he was alive. The stories varied.
We were just trying to fit the pieces together, settle it in our minds. We’d walk in silence for a while then one of us would come up with another question, another piece that didn’t fit. And round we’d go again.
I suppose we were too engrossed to notice much going on around us; I don’t know where he came from or how long he’d been there but when the third person asked a question it brought us up short; broke the repetitive circle and made us see things afresh. He wasn’t confused or devastated by the story we told. If anything, he seemed exasperated that it wasn’t all as clear to us as it was to him.
By the time we reached home we too could see all the little hints and pointers throughout history that said this was the way things had to be; it couldn’t happen any other way.
He showed us God’s hand at work, moulding, shaping human history, deftly weaving back in the broken, fraying threads; picking up the pieces of human folly; always bringing new life out of stricken ruins. Familiar words of the prophets took on new meaning as he said to us, see how God spoke to this situation, to that; see how God speaks to the redemption of the world.
Horizons enlarged as he spoke. Nothing was beyond God’s love for his people. History was unfolding and we were part of it. God watered the desert; it sprang to life. He touched my heart and it sang for joy. I could have walked forever in this stranger’s company. As my feet kept pace with his, my soul soared with the angel choirs of heaven.
But we came to our home and he would have walked on. He’d shared so much but wouldn’t impose. We had to ask. Please stay. An invitation? Or begging a favour. We were honoured and humbled that he would grace our board with his presence. He took his seat, said the blessing, broke the bread. As he placed it in my hand, my eyes met his. And I knew.
I glanced across at Cleopas; he knew too. We turned back to our guest but he was gone.
Gone from our sight, and yet not gone. His presence would be with us forever.
We’ve told our story many times since rushing back to Jerusalem with the news that first evening, yet seldom has anyone commented on the providence that made us prevail on him to turn aside with us. But as the years go by, I often wonder how different life would have been if we hadn’t. Occasionally we speak of it but speculation is useless and we are just so thankful that we did. And we tell people, as I’m telling you now, if he comes alongside you, if you sense his presence, your heart burns at his words, then be sure to invite him in. You might not see him as we did but once he comes to you, dwells within you then you are blessed indeed and he will never leave you.
Children of Bethel
My private name
For all who lay their head
On Jacob’s pillow stone
Who see the angels
The fraying veil
Twixt earth and heaven.