I have used the story of Jesus and his disciples in the grip of a raging storm in the Sea of Galilee in sermons and teaching sessions many times. (Matthew 8.23; Mark 4.35; Luke 8.22)
In researching the background for the passage I learned, in that particular area of Galilee, clouds could gather and explode over the bowl-shaped lake with a suddenness and ferocity that could easily catch one off guard.
In this lesson, such a storm is mentioned and we read how the fear of the disciples contrasted to the calmness of Jesus. While the disciples lost their calm in the face of the rising waves, Jesus shouted out, “Peace! Be still.”
The moment after the storm had ended, the moment where we can imagine Jesus looking at the terrified disciples with the air of a disappointed teacher, said, “Where in the world is your faith?”
We can almost hear Jesus saying: “Has anything I’ve taught you taken root in your hearts? What have you learned about yourselves? You think this was a storm, you have no idea what the future is going to bring you.”
Perhaps somehow this Galilean storm was to be a testing laboratory Jesus used to prepare his disciples, as well as his priests who would follow him in ministry, and the soul-bending moments that would lie ahead for us all.
Experiences of this kind are not about right words but about right attitude and behavior, qualities that show themselves best in “stormy conditions”.
I would estimate that the life of any priest serving in ministry is 95 percent navigation in relative calm waters (the routines of daily life) and 5 percent sheer terror facing the unexpected and the uncontrolled. Yet in that 5 percent, much can be revealed about the person we are becoming and the integrity of what we say we believe. In stormy moments, there are the aspects of one’s inner being that are likely to be tested.
In saying this, I am not trying to write as a psychologist or as an expert in spiritual formation. I’m simply observing out of personal experience that has much to do with memory.
I see memory as a library. Here, deep within is a storehouse of experiences and impressions one can drawn on to measure present experiences. However, this knowledge base may not always be accurate. Over time, the stories stored in one’s memory can be revised, morphed, to become more terrible or more impressive.
Also, an inner “library” is not passive: it is not like a shelf of books that waits to be discovered and consulted. Bits and pieces of memory are wildly active, often seeming to leap off the inner shelves and inserting themselves into present thoughts whether welcomed not. I think of my memory-library, as a store of experiences and impressions to be drawn on to measure the present.
On the other hand, my memory has served me as a wellspring of experiences. As I have compiled a personal biography of successful and not so successful events, I have created a record of experiences and what they meant (some might call this wisdom) that guide me today. The older I have become, the percentage of wise decisions has increased – at least according to my calculations.
I am more likely to offer insight that is not formed in the moment but as the result of dozens of similar experiences of the past where I learned what was appropriate and what was helpful. There are simply some things that cannot be rushed into the brain no matter how smart or gifted we are. Some things take time.
On other occasions, the act of writing is really the strengthening of memory, not unlike one who builds his or her body through conditioning. Without the pen, there is an enormous amount of life experiences that I would have forgotten by now. There is a written record of events, my reflections on those events, and, not infrequently, a word or two about what I should or should not have done.
Recently, I have been going through some old files and publications of various meetings, seminars, and conferences I had attended beginning in the 1960s as an active A.C.Y.O.A. member. Several things impressed me as I scanned those documents.
I was struck by how hard someone worked to maintain an accurate record of our deliberations. Why? Because they understood the importance of corporate memory.
But does it occur to folks today that the “minutes” of one’s life are perhaps more important? An accurate rendition of what we believe God has directed into our lives, what we have learned in each pastoral experience, what could we use for improvement the next time, and that for which we must be thankful, are just as vital.
We make memory serve us when we are careful to repent of the sins we recall, to forgive when we have been sinned against remembering the lessons of Christ, to give thanks when we have been blessed, and to reflect upon the meaning of events and what God might have had for us to learn. Not always an easy lesson to translate from theos into praxis.
God has not only given us a memory of the past, but has provided us with an imagination – the ability to create scenarios for the future to test their viability. The mind is not only a library; it is also a stage. On that stage we are able to place ourselves, and others, to act out choices and possibilities.
This imagination, of course, can easily get out of control. It can conjure things that are dangerous, destructive. It can take us into areas of thought that are devastating to our soul. Fantasies of relationships, of achievements, of acquisition can be spiritually poisonous. Then there is the place of resolve, the area between past and future we can call the “will”. It lies between the memory of the past and the imagination of the future. It’s the control room of one’s life, the place where one engages in choice.
This “will” is a remarkable thing. It seems able to weigh options, even for a part of it to act contrary to another part.
If the memory of past experiences is not strong, and if the imagination that often deals in perceived consequences is not an appropriate action, it is altogether likely that the will (the decider) will choose badly. All the parts of must work in tandem to produce a responsible conclusion.
Jesus did it out of a fully functioning inner life where memory, imagination, and will were in perfect alignment. We are simply to embrace that lesson and to do the same.