My father told me the tale of how he and his fishing buddies went out onto the Gulf of Mexico one Saturday in the early eighties. They were experts on boating and when a storm started swelling, they reeled in their lines, stowed their gear and prepared to return to the dock.
The boat had two motors, one that was part of the boat itself, and a second portable one for emergencies. The first engine failed. The storm grew fiercer as the captain/owner of the boat tried to get it started again and again and again. He tried radioing for help but got little reception owing to the storm and the fact that they were in the middle of the ocean. The backup motor would take longer to get them safely to shore.
One or two sipped the remains of their beers, trying to pretend it was no big deal. Lightning cracked overhead, cutting across the sky ominously. As the waves slapped the powerless craft harder, my dad’s cousin S.J. went into the bow of the boat and located the life jackets. Several of the guys weren’t interested in wearing them until a wild jerk of the boat caused my dad to fall down on the deck. Everyone swallowed their pride pretty quickly.
The second engine would not start. After a few curse words, two semi-mechanically-inclined men began examining the machine for possible fixable problems. Meanwhile the captain kept trying to get his boat to start. Another was perpetually working the radio. The rain began pelting everyone and within seconds all were completely drenched. The waves grew and thunder could be felt rolling through the air.
By this point, the captain was swearing at his first mate about the state of the engines. The guy with the radio was yelling about the reception. The two would be mechanics were cursing, one of them had a small cut and the other was a tad tipsy. The wind was howling making everyone fearful and miserable.
S.J. looked out at the sky and the storm, sighed and said, “Man, I wish ole’ J.C. was here.” My father winced at the 1970s reference to Christ. He growled, “What makes you think he isn’t?”
“Yeah, well,” S.J. winked, “I wish He’d give it this.” And S.J. put his hands out over the waters as if to calm them, to smooth the ocean as if it were a sheet. Another peal of thunder broke the sky drawing all the men quiet for a moment.
“Well,” my dad responded, “Well, it’s not because He hasn’t been asked.”
All seven men busted into laughter.
Within minutes, the storm above dissipated as the one below had. The original engine suddenly found its strength to start and a fresh round of cold beer was handed out to toast being able to return home whole.
Because I knew this story, whenever I heard the story of Christ walking on water, it was easy to see the apostles cursing the storm, pretending it wasn't as bad and real as it felt, and yet struggling to get the craft to go in the right direction and always, fearful and fully aware of the possibility of death. The story instructs us on exactly what to do when we are in the grips of forces beyond us and that threaten to destroy us utterly.
Invite Jesus to calm the waters of our souls. Ask Jesus for the grace that allows us to be at peace with one another even in the face of danger. Asking Christ to give us that calming breath upon our lives lets us then build true community and connection with one another and find our way safely home. With all the uncertainty that stalks our daily lives, with jobs, finances, politics and health, perhaps now we ought to consider asking Jesus to look out at the storms of our community and our individual souls, and “give it this.”
The hurricane and subsequent rainfall in Houston and the surrounding suburbs has offered the country an opportunity to come together and be the hands and feet of Jesus, who “gave it this” — and in so doing, to restore deeper peace to the whole land, by reminding us that we are more than our differences, more than our politics, more family than strangers.