Mark 5:2

and, as soon as Jesus had got out of the boat, he met a man coming out of the tombs, who was under the power of a foul spirit,

zombie attacks are all the rage
whichever way we turn tombs
vomit forth those dead to me
pushed in my face
unavoidable as suffering

intaken and held breath
focuses our reptilian brain
like calls to like
will we lose our brain
will they gain Paradise Rest

all too soon a confrontation
at best we are down sixty forty
if we pit strength against strength
so we simply stand loose
and shake out compassion

with nothing to go on but integrity
expectations are slowly released
a surprising smile comes unbidden
as we envision our own clean tomb
and offer a bottle of Pine-Sol®

Much takes place in boats. Begin to vision earth as a boat sailing among the stars.

The church has seen itself as a boat on but not of the world.

Boats have been places of refuge (Noah and his Ark), of calling, of teaching, and of going to another side. To remain in a boat provides some degree of separation from “chaos”. To leave such boats is to enter into a dangerous world of creation and all the variety that entails.

Sure enough, leave a boat and we have to deal with more than our own internals; we are face-to-face with more than can be reasonably dealt with.

On shore we find ourselves between a devil and a sea—either deep wilderness or exactly the place to learn from wilderness.

It is on a shore—wherever separations, divisions, and their accompanying fears are found—that we find that liminal space where mystics can never say more than they know, only less. In that less we are faced with choices along a continuum from “follow” to “betray”.

When we simply set out for that greener pasture or the other side, we know there are going to be moments like this one. The not knowing works us up. Thankfully we are now out of the realm of every nasty option and facing the one before us. This we can deal with from our practice of compassion, mercy, and reservoir of belovedness. We may even transform it into a Parable or Paradise.

Mark 5:1

They came to the other side of the sea – the region of the Gerasenes;

happenstance or planning
offers an encounter
with very otherly anothers
otherwise quite avoidable

in either case a choice
offers itself about response
to accent smell fashion sense
since we’re used to our own

might beauty shine through
offering a point of contact
in an otherwise alien land
bearing all our fear of wilderness

it is here where we’re away
a gift of travel offers
its mirror to our usual soul
opportunity for guest hospitality

With various texts and spellings, it is difficult to pin the setting down to a general area. Pompey had taken this area in 63 BCE and it is a place of Roman strength. Retired army veterans have land given them. This is also a land that was an early adopter of Jesus’ Way sending participants to early councils such as those moved to Seleucia and Chalcedon.

This difficulty of location opens options of seeing this as a midrash on Exodus 23:28. Levine/Brettler note the Hebrew word “gerash” (expel) is used in some accounts of nations being driven out of their lands that the Israelites might take their place. Given the Roman presence, what follows is a deeply political commentary.

In addition to reading backward, we are able to compare the external occupation of the land by the Romans with a corresponding internal occupation of economic peonage to satisfy the privileges of a privileged class.

Myers asks his readers to:

Imagine our nation as a single living organism, with many parts. This organism bears the characteristics of the demon-possessed man (mightily self-destructive, out of control, isolated from community, living among the tombs, howling).

Myers continues by asking people to note the headlines all around them and to ask:

Are we as a people possessed? Who is crying out for deliverance? When the liberating power of God approaches, do they ‘beg the power of liberation to leave their neighborhood’ (5:17)?

How clear are you about present internal/external occupations?

Mark 4:41

But they were struck with great awe, and said to one another, “Who can this be that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

we marvel at that outside
our frame of reference
without wondering what it has to do
within systems of habit and desire

this externalization of questions
protects us from following too quickly
where a new thought or emotion
would pull and push us instead

by the time we have polled each other
metaphoric wind and sea are significant
awe fear wonder fade from view
wilderness again protected us from us

The disciples evi­dence the same amaze­ment as those who witnessed healings, the besting of legalists at their own game, and evocative stories.

Up to this point the disciples could be relatively cool. Following Jesus on his rounds and taking notes has been informative.

When it came to their skin being in the game, things changed. This sounds very familiar of our own engagement with our Hesitation (timidity) and Hope (trust)—try your own language for the exercise suggested for the previous verse.

This question of “Who?” is one that will continue through Mark. It is a question to be asked not only of Jesus, but ourselves. Who have we been? Who are we now? Who are we becoming?

Perkins notes, “Beginning with Jesus’ move onto a boat to teach in 4:1, the sea provides the fixed geographical location for the narrative world in Mark’s Gospel through 8:26.” Then, with Peter’s confession, “the question of Jesus’ identity shifts to the cross.”

The deep of watery chaos and the deep of dark death are important wilderness markers that bring us to a sense of urgency to make sense of our life and the lives (animate and inanimate) around us. Mark’s hurry-up and look-back keep us unsettled enough to crack our usual belief structures that we might suspend our disbelief long enough to move beyond astonishment and awe to identification with a larger identity.

Eventually our partnership will not be based on doings such as healing by word and touch, rhetorical victory, or nature spectacle, but on a state of being that floats on chaos and dives into death with a joy able to transform Joy into Mercy and Empire into Community.

Mark 4:40

“Why are you so timid?” he exclaimed.  “Have you no faith yet?”

after a storm we assess
what’s the damage
what’s a first task
how might we better prepare
how long will it take to recoup
who’s fault was it
who did the heroic
where does this leave us
where do we head from here
when will it be safe enough to trust
when can we laugh about this

after a storm we forget
the labor of survival
the challenge of protecting love
the pervasiveness of despair
the intersections of harm
the utter loss of trust

after a storm we choose
doubling down on pre-storm stasis
setting up a next muddling through
opening to a fresh breeze

An all too easy read of this has us turning the sense of these two verses (39 and 40) around so that when Jesus is awakened he asks his question about their fright, stands up, flexes his muscles and declaims, “Watch this. QUIET!”

Then we could get to the awe of verse 41 to wrap things up. Hooray for Jesus!!

δειλοί, (deiloi, “Frightened”) is a question of timidity. Apprentice Jesuses have so lost it that they forgot to ask Jesus for a miracle. It is recorded that Jesus just does as Jesus does. This lack of asking for what is needed is as good a definition of a bunch of Mr. Milquetoasts as we are going to get. Timidity, thou art us.

A question of “Faith” brings us back to trust (πίστιν, pistin). The issue of trust is larger than a simple choice of trusting G*D or trusting Jesus. It entails an actual decision and living that out. There are plenty of experiences along the way that indicate we can’t trust our own thinking, much less that of others. This question of trust is a question of discipleship or actual practice of a series of steps intended to arrive at a desired destination. It is here that Buddha’s Path is clearer than Jesus’ Way. The two are related but appeal to different parts of My Journey.

Timidity and Trust assist us in evaluating how we are doing with a changed head and heart. They help clarify one another.

Exercise: Draw a Venn Diagram of Timidity and Trust in your life at the present time. After reflecting on it a bit, draw another of where you would like to be in a week. Repeat weekly until you have reached a helpful balance.

Mark 4:39

Jesus rose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea,  “Hush! Be still!” Then the wind dropped, and a great calm followed.

inside turmoil or out
reciprocate and multiply
to address one effects the other

storms outside raise anxiety
inside storms spill past individuation
soon one is lost within the other

calming outsides eases inner sides
perspective reverses the all-consuming
in darkness a glimmer means everything

de-escalation reminds we are not fated
a breath in a panic attack is available
calm’s warmth unfreezes us

Lazy Jesus evaluates the situation. Keep bailing or stop more water from coming in. Just like the question of ease regarding forgiving sins or to say “Get up”, Jesus does that which models partnership with G*D and speaks as his followers would expect of a G*D-connected relationship.

In language that has us remembering a person out of their mind (1:25) told the same as is now said, “Peace!”, “Quiet!”, “Be Still!”, “Silence!” Since it is difficult to demand “Peace!” peaceably, one of the other commandments is a clearer translation.

We can’t avoid the theodicy question of having the power to act and the power to not do so. It is a question that has been begging to be addressed all through the healings and teachings. Now a nature “miracle” claims the special privilege of demonstrating a power to call things right (healings) (harvests) (calming wind and wave).

This is a particularly apt topic given the prevalence of Prosperity Preachers (court prophets) in every setting of Empire and the increasing number of poor people as more resources are claimed by the richest. Why does our experience of prayer not stop storms or locusts or cancer or job loss or . . . ? We are like King Canute who could not stop a rising tide; we cannot control our negatives. Likewise, we cannot add an inch to our height or have rain come at optimal times.

This may be impressive to the disciples in their frightened state, but it adds nothing to an apologetic for Jesus as Messiah or G*D-Partner.

Blessings on your practice of taking one E.E. Cummings-breath, “bigger than a circus tent”, and letting that settle in.

Mark 4:38

Jesus was in the stern asleep on the cushion; and the disciples roused him and cried, “Teacher! Is it nothing to you that we are lost?”

don’t you care we are drowning
is a question every threatened group
yells at persecutors and observers

at least recognize our suffering
see yourself in our plight
this must be witnessed recorded

students everywhere are tempted to give up
new concepts are too daunting
old resources no longer suffice

teacher teacher teacher they beseech
don’t you care we are failing
bail us out give us the answer

When in trouble, we cherish a, “but”.

All is not lost; there is still a way. If it had come earlier we would have been saved some angst.

In trying to prove our mettle, we find we have put off important connections. Not only has community suffered, so have we. Finally, we can no longer put off acknowledging our fear.

What more is there to be done?

Swanson recognizes a “tension in this scene is between people who know danger when they see it and Jesus who is asleep”. He suggests that the question asked of Jesus, “works well if they are really asking Jesus to get busy and act as if he were a part of the crew. Honor this truth when you play the scene.”

This acted-out parable pushes us back to the importance of partnership and growing together as a source of overall maturity of both individuals and community.

Several commentators bring Jonah into the picture (Jonah 1:5–6). They connect Jonah sleeping below deck with Jesus sleeping in the back of the boat. Both the crew of the ship Jonah is on and the disciples in the boat with Jesus ask them to do their job of connecting with G*D so things can be put right and we will be saved.

Both crews are fox-hole invokers. Until things are beyond us, G*D is beyond us. Prayer is a fix-it technique, not a process of deepening relationships, growing together.

Here Jesus is not thrown into the sea but called to take his part bailing water from the belly of the boat. Those with ears are invited to hear beyond words, to work on a changed heart.

Mark 4:37

A violent squall came on, and the waves kept dashing into the boat, so that the boat was actually filling.

a day’s pent-up energy
returns in unexpected fury
provisional answers nip at ankle
our bright guide star is clouded

observed from afar we thrash
awash in waters old and new
threatening our over-stressed mast
entreating our siren-yearning ears

this is not a straight-line voyage
from frying pan to fire
but a whirlpool maelstrom
unambiguously deadly deep

each perfect storm activates fear
scares the bejesus out of us
leaving us cobra entranced
resigned to an unavoidable bite

the end of our rope has been reached
no more decisions are needed
as the waters rise we know
our boat is no ark but garbage scow

Exaggeration, thy name is familiar. Waves look different depending on whether one is on shore or asea. Even if on the water there is a difference between being on an ocean-going freighter or coracle. Each serves in their appropriate setting but both would be up a creek without a paddle if they swapped places

For the moment we suspend our disbelief. We know what it is to feel fear beyond the danger of the moment. Fear is exponential, not additive.

This is the wild side of wilderness writ large. This goes beyond a test we get a D- on. We have reached the failsafe point and have failed. If the wind weren’t so strong, everyone could smell our fear. Our only urgency at this point is to withdraw from the game, forfeit-or-die. In the face of a bullying storm, we cry, “Uncle!” or use our safe-word, if only we could remember it.

These are dangerous times we live in. Those who would control through punishment are in charge. This wind is a parable for Empire about to blow everything apart, including itself. We need a mustard plant to shelter us. We are beginning to see what was at stake with the teachings.

But we are not there yet. The culture’s shadow side has been accepted as our own and we are convulsed needing it to be exorcised from our own lives. Our authority is strong enough for others, but not for ourselves. This test is too much.

Mark 4:36

So, leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them, just as he was, in the boat; and there were other boats with him.

leopards are not chameleons
spots are not so easily changed

still muttering about seeds
Jesus is placed in a boat

a Parable Armada is underway
widening as it goes

it is not long before sea swells
rock all and a navigator to sleep

evening darkens and deepens
souls laid down and angels invited

ah sweet rest after a busy day
its seed planted rain awaited

Other boats are a transient detail that plays no other part in the story than reminding us that not all the followers were committed beyond what they could get for themselves. We may think about these boats a bit more as we get into later betrayals. They start out strong here, but are soon out of the picture. This is another way to chart our own engagement with the Jesus story—are we continuing close abaft, drifted away, or noting storm-clouds, return to safe harbor.

The greatest mystery here relates to the phrase, “took him as he was. His “wasness” includes the sense of a mission larger than the personal. Whether by land or water, the Way of Jesus includes partnering, through calls and responses, with those able to open new ways to both those who have settled into sufficient meaning for the time and those who are elsewhere. This will require questioning the verities our ancestors did their best to describe and wrestling with our own experiences of limits and their crossing.

Jesus’ “wasness” is not pushed back to John’s “in the beginning” or Matthew and Luke’s variants on a birth narrative. Mark begins with a sense of something more that led Jesus to travel from Nazareth to the Jordan. These subsequent “other side” trips are a continuation of exploring the presence of G*D and practicing so partnering with G*D and others that there is such similarity that anyone looking on would wonder how they keep completing one another’s thoughts.

The followers of Jesus had to take him as he was, not as they imagined what a Messiah or Partner of G*D would necessarily be and do. It is the tension between their recognition of Jesus’s ability to guide them outward and their own continual surprise at how much more there is to G*D and themselves, that keeps urging them onward.

Mark 4:35

In the evening of the same day, Jesus said to them, “Let us go across.”

evening time is prelude
to dream time connections
thinning this from that
this shore from any other
this wisdom from all others

here rests a wild day
with winds forecasting wilder
today’s survival is not a vaccine
protecting us from tomorrow’s storm
must we rest dare we rest

it has been a day of parables
stirring our under-exercised imagination
wearying us with possibilities
confusing us with situational choices
a simple ride would be a relief

enthusiasm is dampened by suspicion
are we deepening today’s parables
by extending them from word images
to silent existential experiences
following is not as easy as first thought

A time of teaching comes to a pause. The rhythm of learning requires a practicum.

This gives us opportunity to breathe and consider what we think was meant by all those parables of a growing presence of G*D. It will be tempting to see such growth coming of its own accord.

Evening arriving with a sea to cross begins to tickle the back of the neck. There is just a hint of ominous music on the edge of consciousness.

But, we do have the big guy, our number one, with us to not only guide, but protect. Whew.

Having reestablished our trust in Jesus’ identity, we shift positions in the teaching boat and proceed with oar and sail to pull away from shore.

It should be noted that popular imagination from afar would tend to make the waves of Galilee mountainous. In ordinary time the wind does blow as the heat of the lake intersects with the cool from the heights but we are not talking hurricane/typhoon weather. The shallowness of the lake can get waves going quickly and choppily which does have its dangers, but experience would show that there is not undue risk by continuing on the now-here / now-there itinerary Jesus seems to have in his head and that his followers have come to expect, if not predict.

For now, we simply note Jesus’ intention to go to “the other side”. Teaching and healing are for all, not just the privileged.

Mark 4:34

and to them he never used to speak except in parables; but in private to his own disciples he explained everything.

everything is parabolic
  a yellowed lecture
    is a parable
  even if no examples are used
  a police command
    is a parable
  even when shouted after shooting
  a parent’s ruling
    is a parable
  even when excessively applied

nothing is explainable
  a missed antecedent
    is explainable
  but no less baffling in the moment
  a creed
    is explainable
  but no less outdated until updated
  a case law
    is explainable
  but no less inapplicable next time

The previous verse (4:33) and this one belong together to present a Semitic parallelism. They reinforce one another while each expands the other.

There are two levels of teaching—the lively presentation of evocational context and the excavational exploration tied to living with a changed mind and heart.

Verse 33 finds a good message in finding the mundane as source of rapture. Creation is never left behind for some heaven that can only be hyperbolic. It is a grounding from which deeper vision grows. All those punishment-oriented “Left Behind” novels got it 180° wrong. It is always Paradise-in-Creation where we find ourselves beloved and beloving.

This verse ties us to this grounding through the work of refining nuggets of insight into a usable form that goes on to touch all the rest of our life. This transformation takes a great amount of intention (energy/time) and diligence (matter/space) which represents both a satisfied moment and a well-lived life.

Apply story and reflection, rinse, repeat (more of the tale and further reflection), practice, hear a story prequel, follow a rabbit-trail, allow the story to echo in a fallen-into cave, rinse, practice, begin telling a story, hear it repeated, pause, hear a story sequel, practice, smile, stumble across one link between stories, sleep, dream, awake to play, play your part in a larger play, the story of a life with wild beasts and angels hovering ‘round, seeds and soils, Holy Cow and Brother Coyote, storms and retreats, fables and dissertations, yes, . . . .