Elijah, having been promised that he would find the Lord on the mountain, left the shelter of his cave. Sure enough, God showed up, but not in mighty gales or crashing rocks. The Lord was not even encountered in the earthquake or the fiery extravaganza. It was a tiny whispering voice that made Elijah cover his face in the presence of the Most High. Elijah was called in the quiet.
Peter and his companions, tossed about by waves and wind, saw the Lord as a ghost upon the water and were terrified. The voice over the tumult said: “Get hold of yourselves! It is I! Do not be afraid!” Peter heard the call to cross the raging waters. But daunted by the strength of the wind and his own frailty, he began to sink in fear. Even so, despite his going under, Peter was called to faith in the midst of turmoil.
Some of us imagine that God is found only in the gentle whisper, the nook of isolation, the mountain of retreat and quiet. And indeed the call is often heard there, far from the noise and distraction, not in turbulence but in serenity.
But that should not lead us to believe that the storms of life signal godforsakenness. Too easily suspecting that terrors are graceless, we ignore the strongest calls made in days of strife and struggle. Rather than think our fears indicate a loss of moorings, we should imagine them as opportunities for deeper anchor.
Fear most often assails us, it seems to me, when we are in danger of losing something or someone we cling to. It is understandable that we would worry about the possibility of losing something, someone, some strength in ourselves so reliable and so dear. But the threat of loss is the call across troubled waters.
The sinking feeling may be nothing other than the recognition of our inability to walk the waters on our own. Going under despite our efforts, we finally turn our faces up more honestly, more in faith, to the one who carries us. Ebbing powers and promise do not signal the end. They remind us that it is only in God that we are strong. Fright does not necessarily mean cowardice; it also invites the admission that we are wondrously dependent.
Storms are omens of deliverance as well as of disaster. If we break through to freedom in the following calm, we discover a faith in God so newly grounded that we need never again fear losing the cherished creatures we love. A radical faith, the daughter of dark times, finds the sun wherein all the loves we have had are illumined in the love that is light.
If fear is the last word in our love, we will communicate only fear to those we cherish. Such fear is a futile strain, as if we could walk, by our puny skills, on water. But fear faced and released in faith allows us to love the beloved more freely and the giver of the gift more authentically.