I grew up in Thunder Bay, on the shore of Lake Superior. The city is nestled around a large natural harbour, and ringed in behind by the remnants of a once mighty mountain range, the Cambrian Shield. The mountains are apparently not what they once were, geological ages ago, but they are still high enough to contribute to the creation of amazing weather systems. The moisture laden air over the lake is pushed towards the mountains, and then upward. Warm air and cold air meet, and clouds are formed, and great energies are gathered. Especially in the heat of summer, the result is spectacular rain storms, with incredible lightning and thunder- hence the name, Thunder Bay.
I think we have some of the same elements at work here in this area, with the air over Lake Ontario pushed up over the edge of the Niagara Escarpment, meeting the colder air, and forming storms. I have seen some pretty amazing lightning around here, and over the lake- but I have to say that these storms still pale in comparison to those of childhood memory. I used to love watching and listening to those summer storms, and feeling them, when the thunder was so loud that it shook our house.
It is no wonder that the First Nations people around Thunder Bay, who are Anishinabe, have many legends about Animiki, the Thunderbird, who formed storm clouds by flapping its great wings, and shot lightning from its eyes.
Is the weather really is more spectacular over Thunder Bay, or is it something about everything looking bigger when you are a child? Wherever we have lived, I have enjoyed watching storms. It has been relatively easy for me to admire nature’s raw power at a safe and comfortable distance. I could talk for quite a while about how awesome it is to see nature at work, and about how there are both psychological and spiritual benefits to being in the presence of forces larger than ourselves, that remind us of our place in the universe, and of just how much about life is beyond our understanding and control.
But storms also represent destructive power. Every year hurricanes, tornadoes, lightning storms wreak havoc. Homes are destroyed, people are injured or killed.
We also use the idea of storm metaphorically, to represent all the disasters and difficulties, natural and human-made, that can shake up our lives.
You don’t have to live through a tsunami to have questions in your heart and mind about why people have to endure and suffer such hardships. There are many kinds of storms.
Economic upheaval. Political turmoil. Famine. Drought. War. The loss of a job. The end of a relationship. Betrayal. Serious illness. The death of a loved one. These are just a few examples of things that can happen in our lives, that can leave us feeling like things are in chaos. These times can strip away from us any illusion that we are in control, or that we understand any of the mysteries of life.
For some of us, these storms are times of profound challenge to our faith. It is common for people in these times to wonder about God, and God’s purposes and methods.
I think that the Gospel story for this morning can be read in at least two different ways. The first, most typical way is to read it as a miracle story. It depicts Jesus as a wonder worker who can calm a storm with a verbal command. In the story, Jesus is actually asleep in the boat when it becomes engulfed in a storm. His friends are afraid that they will drown, so they wake him up.
Getting to his feet, he told the wind, “Silence!” and the waves, “Quiet down!” They did it. The lake became smooth as glass.
25 Then he said to his disciples, “Why can’t you trust me?”
They were in absolute awe, staggered and stammering, “Who is this, anyway? He calls out to the winds and sea, and they do what he tells them!”
To my mind, this miracle story raises at least as many questions as it seems to answer. If Jesus can calm this storm, what about all the other ones? What about all the good people who pray and ask for shelter or relief or rescue from their storms?
Thankfully, this is not the only way to interpret this story, and not the only way to think about God. I think we can also read this story as a kind of parable. Jesus and his friends set out on calm seas, and Jesus falls asleep. The storm comes up, but it does not seem to bother him. Is it likely that a person laying in the bottom of an open boat in the middle of storm could actually sleep? What is the story-teller suggesting?
Maybe we are being given an image of another way that God is with us, in the midst of our everyday storms. Sometimes, maybe most of the time, God is not so much the powerful rescuer, but more the calm, the quiet, the peace in the middle of chaos. We can perhaps dwell a little less on the image of Jesus commanding the wind and the waves, and allow ourselves to remember that whatever else happened to the disciples, Jesus was in the boat with them. He was with them.
My wife told me that when she was a little girl, growing up in a small town not far from Lake Erie, if there was a thunderstorm, her mother would wake up her and her two sisters. They would cuddle together under a blanket on the couch in the front room, and watch the storm, and listen to the thunder. When she was young, Lexie believed that her mom did this for the benefit of the children. Looking back, she realizes that there was more to the story- that her mother was actually afraid of the storms, and needed comfort as much as she wanted to offer it.
Something about that story made me think about the old country song, “Storms Never Last”. It was written by Jessi Colter, who was married to Waylon Jennings. The most famous version of it is a recording by that couple. It’s a love song, written by a wife to a husband who created his own share of storms, with bad choices and wild outlaw living.
Love songs, like poetry and parables, can point us in the direction of truth. I heard a preacher say once that almost any romantic song can be turned into a hymn. Songs about love between people can be sung as prayers, or praises. Jessi Colter wrote:
Storms never last do they, baby
Bad times all pass with the winds
Your hand in mine steals the thunder
You make the sun want to shine
I think she was saying that when there is love present, it is more possible to trust that even the worst storm will pass. I love these lines:
Your hand in mine steals the thunder
You make the sun want to shine
My prayer for any of us who lives in the midst of a storm is that we can feel the touch of a hand that steals the thunder. That God’s presence, and God’s love can relieve our hearts of fear and despair, and allow us to live with courage and confidence, knowing that we are not alone, and that somehow, eventually, the storm will pass. Amen