I opened a book where I left it over a year ago, as an appointment card dated 6th of April 2016 is the improvised bookmark that shows me when that was. The chapter opened with a quote from the Gospel of Matthew. Despite the time lapse, the book has never been more topical. It all started at the Youth2000 festival. The theme this year was Inheritance: the idea that we are all sons and daughters of God, and in a truly loving family you trust each other and feel loved. Now, to cut a long story short (there’s an archive for a reason), I’m not really the greatest at feeling loved. This theme was recurrent over the weekend (and predates it), so I thought I would take a chance to really learn about prayer.
There is a gulf between prayer and talking to yourself, and subsequently there is a gulf between knowing about God and knowing God. I’m well-known as an authority on the former, but the latter is a real work in progress. In between long chats with Catholic VIP (Dame) Joanna Bogle, sneaking out to the seaside and generally having heart to hearts with amazing women I have attended workshops such as one on praise and worship with the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal (those off the telly, ya know) and one on contemplative imagination.
Now you might know about Ignatian Spirituality from my tear-inducing letter to Andrew Garfield (or because you knew about it anyway), and if so you’ll know I never had a chance to try it. Unsurprisingly, the passage was the one in the book, which happens to be the same from the song “Take Heart” we did interpretative dancing to at my very first Youth2000 retreat, at which I also blindly picked St Peter as my patron saint for 2015 (but I suspect not having picked another in 2016 and 2017 he’s stuck with me!). There is a clear trend there…
The passage is, of course, Matthew 14:25-32. At the heart of the passage is the issue of trust. A group of fishermen in 1st century Judea (you can imagine the boats) is caught into a storm that lasts well into the early hours of the next morning. Jesus appears to them at the 11th hour, walking on waters. Instead of asking Jesus to calm the storm, Peter asks Him that if it truly is Him, he should command him to walk on water. He does, and so Peter takes a step out of the boat, into the storm, on a task that would be impossible to men if the water was calm, let alone in those circumstances. As long as his focus is on Jesus, all is good. Losing focus and remembering the storm precipitates the situation (but all ends well).
It is a bit of a cliché that God helps those who help themselves, but in this passage a thing is clear: Jesus was there for Peter, but Peter had to get out of the boat. And getting out of the boat requires a leap of faith. And a leap of faith of this kind requires infinite trust in who God is. The kind of thing that I’m not quite there yet, so I was shocked by what happened at that workshop. Maybe it’s the Italian prima-donna in me, but I saw the scene from Peter’s point of view. I got out of that boat. And everything was peaceful. Now…if you’ve known me for five minutes you know I’m not someone who knows how to be calm and not anxious. That situation in real life would have killed me prematurely of a heart attack. Yet I got out of the boat, and it was peaceful. And then, before I could get to Jesus, who was the light in the darkness (quite literally), my head fell. And it was a different scene. And my head fell again, and it was back to the sea I could smell and taste and still everything was calm.
There is some irony in the fact that I left that book unfinished and then started one that was given me as a gift, Thomas Merton’s The Ascent to Truth. Yet, it all comes together beautifully: mysticism is the right antidote to intellectualism, and intellectualism is something I am entirely guilty of. Picking up the book again, I was not so much inspired to get out of the boat (I had already put myself forward for something I didn’t want to do because I didn’t feel I was ready enough to ever be successful at that…), but proved me black on white just how much I have grown in my faith since then (and probably 80% of it was over the weekend in Walsingham anyway). On Friday evening I talked to my small group leader about some difficulties I had in confronting something. Later that night, I confronted it all. The morning after I told her, and she replied: “That must be why you’re smiling”. A week later, someone I had not seen in a long time said that I was radiant. It’s what you normally say of the bride on her wedding day, but I guess the life of faith is like being a bride on her wedding day every day of the year?