The Stormy Life

After Jesus had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat (with the disciples in it), battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. ~ Matthew 14:23-24

Last week I said daily life on the Colorado Trail (CT) revolved around water. Water sustains us and gives life. This week I would add, “Life on the Colorado Trail revolves around water and the storms.”

The first night, July 4, Ro and I spent on the CT we camped next to some leaning rocks a few miles above Waterton Canyon. The ridge afforded a faraway view of downtown Denver and displays of firework shows up and down the Front Range.

That night a major rain and windstorm rolled in and shook our little tent like a rag doll. We hoped our tent would hold up as the high winds whipped our thin canvas unmercifully. Ro said, “Tomorrow night, let’s pick a camp site that offers a little shelter instead of a view. We’re exposed here.” “If we have a tent tomorrow,” I said as the wind continued to pound our shelter.

The next day, while walking through a burn area with no surviving trees, the dark skies opened, and the rain and lightning poured down. We counted to ten between the lightning flashes and the thunderclap. Then eight counts. Then five counts. We found some cover from the torrential rain in a band of aspen saplings, and we hunkered down to the ground to wait out the storm.

On day three, after filling up our water bottles at Tramway Creek, the slow drizzle Ro and I had been walking in morphed into a torrential downpour. The heavy rain popped on the creek and the ground like firecrackers. It stung. We crept under the boughs of a fir tree and then the lightning came. We moved apart from one another for safety reasons. The ground shook beneath our feet and the noise from the thunder was deafening.

“What are we doing?” I thought to myself. “It’s day three. We’ve barely started on this long walk.”

Storms and the threat of storms shape every day on the CT. When walking, Ro and I kept one eye on our next step and one eye towards the ever-changing skies. No matter how well we planned, we could not avoid the storms. They are a part of the journey.

We can take precautions, but we don’t control the storms. How do we live “when the storms of life are raging”? How do we find peace “when the world is tossing us like a ship upon the sea”? Doesn’t every relationship and every job face stormy weather?

When Jesus walks on water, he is walking through a storm. Think about that for a while. Jesus walked through a storm. The downpour “batters” the boat the disciples are in and “the wind is against them” (see Matthew 14:24). They are terrified. Who wouldn’t be? What do we do when the storms arrive in our life? When they came on the CT, I was always scared, and I prayed a lot. What do we do?

Father Thomas Keating in his book Reawakenings writes, “Jesus emerging from the winds and the waves is the symbol that he is present in the wind and the waves. The problem with the disciples was they didn’t expect Jesus to be in this storm or any other storm.”

How often do we think Grace is present only on a sunny day? How often do we think Love is present only when everything is calm and peaceful? Do we think God abandons us in the storms or maybe we think God is punishing us because we are in a storm?

The disciples are in the middle of a terrifying squall and Jesus says, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Don’t be afraid in the storms. They are part of life. I will be with you.

What do we do when the storms roll into our life? Nearly every day on the trail the storms appeared, and we had to decide, “What do we do?” Isn’t this life? How do we live in love and grace when the storms are all around us and in us?

“Peter,” says Keating, “deserves credit because he risked a lot when the others stayed in the boat.” Peter walked on water, too, in the middle of a storm. “The biggest danger in the spiritual journey is not to take any risk,” writes Keating.

To love our neighbors is a risk. To love our enemies is a greater risk. To put down our weapons and walk nonviolently in peace like Jesus is a risk. To forgive is a risk. To walk on water when the storms of hatred, division, and intolerance are threatening our lives is a risk.

“Come,” Jesus says to us. In the middle of the storms of life, walk in grace and not fear.

I remember walking through a rainstorm for hours one day while climbing up San Luis Pass. The trail was a creek, and we were soaking wet from our heads to our toes. We saw a moose and she was happy. The storm was not bothering her. We walked on through the downpour until the sun came out and warmed our bodies. It was good.

Storms do pass and by the Grace of God we grow in wisdom from them. We might even walk on water in the middle of a storm. Amen.

Blessings and peace,