A Chapel Talk by Rev. Hundley
Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ Simon answered, ‘Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.’ When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’ For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.’ When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
With all the real winter weather we have had this year, I have been thinking a lot about the cold. A special childhood memory of mine is ice skating on the local pond with my father and older brother. It did not matter how cold it was on a Saturday morning. If the pond was frozen, we were going to skate – and not just for a short while, but until we could no longer feel our feet.
Another reminder of the bitterly cold temperature on these mornings was that we were required to tie our own skates. Not only was this hard with little hands, but it often meant that, as the youngest, I often found myself the last one out on the ice. And as I sat there on a tree stump trying to get my skates ready, sometimes on extra cold mornings, I would hear the sound of bubbles traveling under the ice. For me, this was both exciting and disconcerting: With skates on, I was excited to chase the sound across the pond, and yet I was disconcerted because it seemed like the bubble had to find some way to escape, and if it did, wouldn’t that require a hole in the ice?
Somehow if I was still lacing up my skates, the bubble noise seemed safe. But if I heard it while on another part of the pond – the sound would get to me differently. It would often create fear inside of me. In my mind, If I could follow the bubble noise by skating after it, I was able to be in control. But if the bubble noise came towards me on the ice, who knew how it would end?
The problem with wanting to be in control is that it prevents us from making any room to remember that God is still with us. And when we lose control, it often reorients our heart and mind to be afraid.
It is this idea of being afraid or even doubting oneself that I want to reflect on. As humans, we all have moments that can take us to that place where we end up working against our best self. And the greatest obstacle to our connection with God can sometimes be magnified by living with the risk of not knowing what it all means or where it will end up.
In the reading from the Gospel of Luke, Peter has been out all night fishing, and his nets are empty. He is understandably discouraged. And even if he is not directly questioning his ability as a fisherman, he is not seeing any immediate way to change his luck or the progression of his day. In the absence of hope or inspiration, he is now working against his best self.
Are we not also capable of doing this to ourselves? With fear or worry, we can begin creating a storyline in our head about worst possible scenarios, personal shortcomings, or ways that we might fall short. This is surely part of the teenage experience but, at least for me, part of the adult experience as well. Am I parenting well? Is my child okay? Is the relationship with my partner healthy? Am I making a difference with my life? What are we to do in moments like this which find us even amid an ordinary day?
For me, the most predictable way to change the narrative against my best self is to move over and make room for God. After all, isn’t that what Jesus invites Peter to do? Jesus reminds Peter that he is not alone. Jesus also helps Peter see the experience of fishing with bigger eyes – and not just through the holes of an empty net which makes Peter doubt himself. Instead, Jesus invites Peter to think about the net in relation to what is happening beneath the surface of the water. And with Jesus, there is always more happening below the surface. That is what makes Jesus the embodiment of God, a God who invites us to feel all of what it means to be human while also taking a place next to us in the boat.
By our side, we might now find ourselves ready to pray as the Irish poet John O’Donoghue does in a morning offering by saying, “May I have the courage today to live the life that I would love, to postpone my dream no longer but do at last what I came here for and waste my heart on fear no more.” (From To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings [Benedictus in Europe].)
With God by our side, we can trust that there is goodness to be found beneath the surface of fears that sometimes shape our day. Put out into the deep water, Jesus tells Peter. Perhaps that’s where we will find God speaking to us just like the bubbles give voice to the newly formed ice on a pond – reminding us that there is always more beneath the surface – teeming with promise for new understanding.
Yes, when Jesus comes aboard, the fish start flowing into the net implying that Jesus has miraculous abilities. But more than an account of Jesus’ miracle, the story this morning is an invitation to consider the wisdom of these so-called life bubbles – or proverbs – that live with hope under the surface of our lives.
Consider it another way as described by the Jewish writer Wayne Mueller in his book about Sabbath. He writes, ‘Attention is a tangible measure of love. Whatever receives our time and attention becomes the center of gravity, the focus of our life. This is what we do with what we love: We allow it to become our center.” (From Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives [Random House]) When we give our attention to God, we get beneath the surface of our lives, and our fears and questions don’t need to be navigated alone. And in that risk, God meets us with love.
All these years later, the frozen surface of the water appeals to me differently. Ice is beautiful to look at and amazing to skate upon. But it also only offers part of the story. It tempts us to live in response to the fears that we let tell our story on any given day. Perhaps, that’s what the bubbles are for. They call us to move over and make room for God. Let it be so for us this day. Amen.
This chapel talk was offered by the Rev. Hundley at a Parent Prayer Service.
PHOTO CREDIT: Jesus and the two fishermen, from the stained glass series the Miracles of Jesus Christ, by Lawrence B. Saint, in St . John's Chapel, Washington National Cathedral. Photo by Ken Cobb.