“Will they reach the nursery in time? If so, how delightful for them, and we shall all breathe a sigh of relief, but there will be no story. On the other hand, if they are not in time, I solemnly promise that it will all come right in the end.”
J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan
We’ve been reading Peter Pan at bedtime, and it’s terribly full of trouble. Even Blue gets a bit pale sometimes, and he loves pirates. I’m not sure that we’d get through if it weren’t for this promise. We hold on tight and remember.
After the story, we sing songs and tuck in. Four more minutes with the lights (an elastic four, to be sure.) Then more kisses and lights off, prayers with me and the Spouse puts on lullabies. Then , if it’s a good night, they stay in bed, and I get to do some reading for myself. I’ve been going through Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction (which I recommend and may review here, if you are interested – have any of you worked through it?) I came across this line.
“All the water in all the oceans cannot sink a ship unless it gets inside. Nor can all the trouble in the world harm us unless it gets within us.”
Promised assurance again. Echoes of the gospel. Literary life rafts.
This week’s lectionary offers something similar in story-form. Yesterday’s gospel reading and next week’s tell the same stories, though between Mark and John there is, of course, a little side step and translation going on. Still, in both we have the feeding of the 5000 and the story of Jesus walking over the sea. Miraculous moments full of wonder, and perhaps fear, too. It’s interesting to spend two weeks on these stories. There is a lot to think about here. Of course, they are great stories for Sunday school – so many craft ideas! And they have space aplenty for biblical commentators to wonder about the nature of miracles. Some commentators like to explain the story of the loaves and fish by saying that the prayers of Jesus inspired the crowds to take what little they had hidden away and to share it with their neighbours so that there was enough to go around. Others are resolute that Jesus miraculously created enough bread from the one small meal. But the how isn’t as crucial as the why. Why was there suddenly enough bread? Because the people were hungry and Jesus loved them and wanted them fed. Just like Jesus seeing the fear in his disciples on the sea, loved them and gave them the peace of his presence.
These stories are life rafts. These are stories of providence. Scripture is shot through with images and promises of God’s providing, abiding love, promising to feed us with abundance, to be with us in the storm. God will provide.
What is it that God provides? Is it protection? I read in the paper that one of the survivors in Aurora last week told her mother “Mom, God saved me. God still loves me.” Which is heart-breaking and honest. I can understand wanting to believe that kind of framework for reality. That God looks after the faithful and nothing bad will happen to the beloved of God. But the logical extension has no gospel in it. That those who die are abandoned by God.
That’s not the promise, is it?
No, God promises abiding love. Continuing presence. God will provide. God keeps the water out. And when it pours in, God’s bailing, too. That’s gospel. That harm itself will be (and has been) confronted by God and that we will be secure in God’s love which stretches further than we can begin to imagine.
And stories help.
This week, I see Christ walking on water to meet the disciples in the moment of their chaos in the wind and the dark. I see Christ meeting me in the mess of my day, in the midst of the worries and the wondering and the scolding kids and the noise and the things left undone. I see Christ with me as I worry, speaking peace. And I see Christ feeding the people, showing them that the resources are there with them, just as He is there with them. I see Christ blessing the world in surprising ways, feeding us all. These are good stories to hold onto.
Maybe that’s why we tell these stories with kids – as a way of equipping them with faithful imagination. And maybe to remind ourselves yet again that our source of peace in ineffably external and intimately internal. God will provide. God is near.