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, . . . .

Mark 4:33

With many such parables Jesus used to speak to the people of his message, as far as they were able to receive it;

we practice parables
for we never know
how many it will take
to hear another
one we need
for our own health

The most prevalent error made in an attempt to teach is in saying just that one more thing than the teacher understands.

This shows up in the archetype of a professor with yellowed notes carrying along what once was a helpful insight as though it were all that ever will be worth knowing. It is revealed no less in an avant-garde early adaption of any whiff of an advertiser’s, “New! Improved!”

Both betray a movement of advance, consolidate, advance. Living off a past advance or an anticipated neo-anything (ego, both) leaves no room for the space needed to retreat to deep wilderness to arrive at a new shore such as D.H. Lawrence parablized in his “New Heaven and New Earth”:

IT was the flank of my wife
I touched with my hand, I clutched with my hand
rising, new-awakened from the tomb!
It was the flank of my wife
whom I married years ago
at whose side I have lain for over a thousand nights
and all that previous while, she was I, she was I;
I touched her, it was I who touched and I who was touched.

Yet rising from the tomb, from the black oblivion
stretching out my hand, my hand flung like a drowned man’s hand on a rock,
I touched her flank and knew I was carried by the current in death
over to the new world, and was climbing out on the shore,
risen, not to the old world, the old, changeless I, the old life,
wakened not to the old knowledge
but to a new earth, a new I, a new knowledge, a new world of time.
Ah no, I cannot tell you what it is, the new world
I cannot tell you the mad, astounded rapture of its discovery.
I shall be mad with delight before I have done,
and whosoever comes after will find me in the new world
a madman in rapture.

A radical rhetoric simplifies, telling the same story over and over again in such a way that facet after facet sparks imagination: G*D and I are beloved Partners—now what will I do with that?

Mark 4:32

yet, when sown, shoots up, and becomes larger than any other herb, and puts out great branches, so that even the wild birds can roost in its shelter.”

there is no better way
to prepare for tomorrow
than to know it to be larger
than we can appreciate today

it very well may go bust
as we commit suicide
either delayed or immediate
life can be brutish and short

nonetheless we dream big
to do otherwise seems strange
dishonoring all that’s gone before
confusing choices and imperatives

those who know their east and west
find light’s speed squared
in each chakra chi and seed
transforming embryos to communal nests

moving individuals to common goods
occurs in a middle journey
noting yesterday’s growth into today
shifts doom toward thanks

Our location on earth is critical to our sense of well-being or generalized spirituality.

We are not dealing with Cedars of Lebanon, worthy of our grandest temple and sign of august authority. Likewise we are not dealing with Matthew or Luke with birds nesting in the branches of this mysterious mustard. Both of these are grand images and indicative of the power of growth far beyond what is expected.

Rather, we are looking at a substantial plant that can maybe double a person’s height. Here the image is a different kind of growth—birds nesting in its shade, nesting on the ground. This is wilderness resting, temporary, vulnerable.

The Jewish Annotated New Testament notes: “Like other parables, this one is satirical and humorous, and highly suggestive: the kingdom is like a scrubby invasive bush!” This critical component of good humor, even great joy, takes delight in its role reversal as an antidote for the seriousness of both fate and providence. We get easily caught in a trap of an event’s great import, whether of profound disaster (“O woe are we!”) or extreme good fortune (“We must have done something good along the way!”). Good news breaks both negative and positive expectations in the same way satire frees.