Beyond the Fray: Meditation and the Story of Jesus at Sea

Beyond the Fray: Meditation and the Story of Jesus at Sea June 18, 2024

{Photo by Kaitlyn Thurlow for Scopio       

I’m part of a tradition that uses the lectionary, and this coming Sunday, one of our readings is about Jesus in a boat in a storm; a passage very familiar for some. Jesus and his disciples pass across a lake when a storm arises and the boat becomes overwhelmed. Naturally, the disciples are afraid for their lives, but Jesus sleeps blissfully in the stern. They are incredulous. “Don’t you even care about us?!” they ask him. But he calmly commands the wind and sea to calm down, and they do. In a way that almost sounds heartless, he then asks his friends, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And the whole thing fills them with awe.

Because I’ve been thinking lately about meditation and what it does in us, beckoning us to go inward, to drop into a deep part of ourselves that is unruffled by the storms and pressures of the moment, or barrages of bad news, or passing thoughts and emotions we’re experiencing, I read this story metaphorically. The storm is like the obsessions and doom-loops occasioned in us by momentary occurrences. The storms can also be more real—meaning, real life tragedies happening around the world that are entirely outside of our control. Or a crisis a friend or family member is facing.

The command Jesus speaks is like the quieting motion of meditation, the thing that drops us into a different reality where we are safe and eternally secure, not tossed around by the fretfulness of the momentary. According to the metaphor, I hear Jesus’ challenge at the end of the passage to be: “Didn’t you realize you can transcend the chaos?”

Recently, a close friend who is a deeply seasoned meditator shared with me how she approaches this time when national and international events are chaotic and disturbing. She explained how she’s trying to focus on breathing in love, and breathing out love. And she is watching how she thinks about things. “I believe it matters how I think,” she said. She sees various events playing out as rooted in historical precedents and as consequences and conditions that will take time to unravel (my paraphrase). I found this all profoundly challenging—in the best kind of way. Like how Jesus challenged his disciples to have greater trust. Since this conversation with my friend, I’ve been dropping into the deep via meditation more frequently and consistently, and being more conscious of what I’m thinking, and of how that energy affects the world.

Dropping Below the Fray

{Photo by Vedant Kothari for Scopio

Most of us can recognize how gossiping and griping and causing fights is counterproductive to solving problems in the world and making the world a better place. But we have a harder time recognizing the opposite: that living our lives in a more peaceful way both inwardly and in our relationships and dealings in the world really does make a difference in the grand scheme of things—even in global events. This is a matter of faith.

Lately, when I meditate (and mind you, I’m no expert), I like to imagine myself sitting at the bottom of a very deep pool. Somehow I can breathe down there, since it’s imaginary. On the surface of the pool are boats and hoards of people and splashing and yelling. But down in the depths where I sit, grounded and calm, I no longer hear the yelling or see the chaos. For a spell, I feel I’ve transcended those things. The hope is that grounding myself in this way allows me to “rise” again, rejoining the fray on the surface, but as a more palliative presence amidst it all.

This image works well for me since I have loved water, and submerging in water, since childhood (see my essay on bathing). When I was young, I adored dropping down to the bottom of a deep pool and staying there as long as I could—which was not long. That place was beautiful and blissful; and in that place, no one pestered me. We all have to find our own methods.

The point is: so often we not only distrust that something lies beyond the fray, but we actively add to the turmoil or fretfulness. How can we use meditation to find a quiet place beyond the fray? How might that change us?

Wren, winner of a 2022 Independent Publishers Award Bronze Medal

Winner of the 2022 Independent Publisher Awards Bronze Medal for Regional Fiction; Finalist for the 2022 National Indie Excellence Awards. (2021) Paperback publication of Wren a novel. “Insightful novel tackles questions of parenthood, marriage, and friendship with finesse and empathy … with striking descriptions of Oregon topography.” —Kirkus Reviews (2018) Audiobook publication of Wren.

About Tricia Gates Brown
Tricia Gates Brown is an everyday theologian working as a writer/editor in Oregon's Willamette Valley, mainly editing and co-writing books for the National Parks Service and Native tribes. After completing an MA in theology then a PhD from the University of St. Andrews in 2000, she continued to pursue her studies—energetically self-educating in theology, spirituality, and the emotional life. She is also an Ordained Deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon. Tricia is an art quilter, potter, and novelist. Her art can be viewed at https://bit.ly/TGBArts . You can read more about the author here.
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