Oh friends, I’ll give it to you simply: I’m honored to share this space with Marcie Walker today. Some of you know Marcie through Black Coffee With White Friends …which is how she and I first connected too. I am grateful for her friendship, her effervescent bookworm self, and her gracious and generous way of being in this world. Also, if you haven’t already, join me in learning even more from this wise teacher and sign up for Mockingbird History Lessons by becoming part of her Patreon community. Proceeds from today’s post go to RAICES.
Mystic and writer Howard Thurman confesses in his autobiography, With Head and Heart, that he spent his childhood listening to storms. “Unafraid, I was held by the storm’s embrace,” he says. He remarks that the experience of storms made him feel “rooted in life, in nature and in existence.” He could hear the the depths of the sea in a storm, and in its pounding surf he could examine “his bruises and his joys.”
Thurman, who was a mentor of Dr. King’s and many other civil rights leaders, writes about his deep relationship to all of nature. He felt he experienced the Great Divine much more richly when he sat with his back against his favorite oak tree, writing, “I could talk aloud to the oak tree and know that I was understood.”
This story reminds me of the one about Jesus sleeping in the boat while his friends panicked for their lives in the middle of a storm. As a kid, I always wondered what kind of friend would do that. Why would anyone delay coming to his friends’ rescue? But maybe what I needed was a wider scope, a greater, more sacred imagination, in order to fully understand the whole story of Jesus calming the storm.
This particular story is one that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—all four of the gospel writers—pretty much agree happened, which means that it’d been told again and again to anyone who would listen. It was a story that was repeated routinely because it still baffled the men who had been in the boat and witnessed it, and everyone they told and then everyone who those people told. “Did you hear that story about Jesus sleeping in the back of the boat, in the middle of a storm, while his friends were screaming, ‘The boat is sinking’?”
I would like to imagine that Jesus, nestled within the chaos, was perhaps not sleeping but listening to the storm. What if he had been letting the wind, squalls and waves have their say before answering them? I’d like to believe that, long before his friends knew what was coming, he’d already heard the treacherous quiet before the storm, and so he comfortably settled himself to listen to the wind’s first whispers. What if his understanding gave the storm the space it needed to unfurl and let itself go? Maybe Jesus knew this was exactly what it needed—a good, long, cathartic cry—not a dismissive, “There there. Settle down. Pull yourself together. Calm down. There’s no need to get hysterical.”
Like Jesus’s friends in the boat, today we see the riots breaking out across the country, riding on the waves of the unjust death of George Floyd beneath the knee of a police officer. The increasing winds have blown right through us. Might I suggest that rather than attempting to survive the storm, we lean into it and listen for what it is truly saying? Then and only then will we be able to say to it, “I hear you. I understand.”
It was only after Jesus listened to all that the storm had to say that could he offer it any comfort, saying, “Peace, be still,” to the wind, the squalls, and the waves rising and turning from the bottom of the deep, deep sea.
Marcie Walker is a Christian, African-American blogger. She is the creator of the blog and Instagram feed, Black Coffee with White Friends. She lives in Austin, Texas with her husband, daughter and two dogs. Follow her story at Black Coffee With White Friends and sign-up for Mockingbird History Lessons by becoming part of her Patreon community. You can also stay in community with her daily on Instagram at Black Coffee with White Friends and Mockingbird History Lessons.
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