I recall once, during a visit to the Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Ellwood City many years ago, walking into the church alone. There on the ceiling of the church was the icon of the Miracle on the Sea. The icon depicts Jesus providing the disciples with an abundance of fish when, despite their best efforts, they could not catch any. It is an icon of God’s providence. I then reflected on another miracle on the sea that conveyed God’s providence. The icon of this second miracle on the sea depicts Jesus rebuking the storm that had descended upon the disciples as they crossed the Sea of Galilee. In both icons, Jesus is seen bringing calm and peace to a situation in which the disciples were frightened, overwhelmed, or discouraged. I recall unexpectedly getting a bit emotional at that moment when I first beheld that icon in the quietness of the church. Clearly, under the layers of daily business and tasks that typically occupied my mind, there was something else that was tapped into at that moment. There was a peace, simplicity, and hope that filled that space at that moment. At that moment it was a reminder of the simplicity of Christ, of our own weakness, and that I was trying to do too much. It cut through all of the superficial matters that had been occupying my mind. It was a reminder of a truth that so easily gets buried under the layers of our earthly life, responsibilities, fears, and worries.
This happens to us often. We move through each day, trying to engage our life by the completion of tasks and tending to responsibilities. As each day passes, we tend to accumulate emotions that pile up because we are too busy to stop and process what’s going in the deep recesses of our heart. Layer upon layer of daily tasks and responsibilities cover over the deeper places within us, such as the “nous”; the seat of the heart or soul. Eventually this catches up with us. As a result of this, we might find ourselves a bit more anxious, depressed, or even not sleeping as well. We can also easily feel like our life is out of control. This is the universal effect the chaotic nature of this world and our modern 21st century life can have on us.
The reality is we yearn for the miracle of the sea to occur within us. Sometimes, without realizing it, we forget hope and instead seek control. It is a temptation for all of us. We convince ourselves that if I just work harder, stay busier, and organize my life more, that I can rebuke or control the wind and sea, the chaos and stress, in my own life. What we so often don’t realize is the more we try to quiet the storm of our stress and fear through over-control and managing every detail of our life, the worse we make the storm within us. The more we try to control everything and everyone in our life, the more we find ourselves taking on water.
As is said in the counseling field,
“The more we try and control what we can’t control,
the more out of control we feel.
It is only when we let go of our need for control, that we truly gain it”.
Of course, we have to take care of the responsibilities in our life. However, we do so to be faithful and to be productive, not in order to have control. It is for each person to look deep within and identify where one motive leaves off and the other begins.
The reality is only the presence of Christ and contact with Him can rebuke the wind and the sea within us. That is the meaning of the icon. It tells us to let go and stop trying to think we can control the universe. This letting go of control, while sounding appealing, feels abstract. To make it more concrete and obtainable we can frame it as accepting and being at peace with our own powerlessness; to deliberately practice not being in control. Each day, as we approach prayer, we remind ourselves of the words of the disciples as they witnessed Jesus calm the storm, “who is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?”. This is who we approach in prayer each day, the one who can rebuke the wind and the sea. It is the desire for contact with the one who can do this that can draw us to prayer each day. The one who brings calm and order into chaos. The one who brings certainty into uncertainty.
However, to experience this, we have to have the encounter as the disciples did. We have this encounter through prayer. We pray silently, daily, and receive the peace of Christ which keeps us afloat despite what is going on around us. We then carry that peace the rest of the day, and guard it vigilantly, so as not to lose it. We then replenish that peace the next day during our next time of prayer. This is how we live. This is how we experience the miracle of the sea each day in our own life. As we journey from prayer to prayer, we carry with us the awareness and knowledge that only Christ can keep us afloat during turbulent times. His peace (that is given as a gift when we pray with humility) acts as a lifejacket that keeps us from sinking into the depths of anxiety and despair. We go through our daily life fully aware of the chaos and storm going on around us. However, we refrain from focusing too long on storm and chaos, and keep our gaze focused on Christ. Prayer maintains this focus. Prayer itself is an exercise in letting go; for when we pray, we say “no” to the world and our many tasks and say “yes” to God.
We pray silently, out of utter dependence on God, and pour out our fears and needs upon Him. It is at that moment that we enter into the miracle on the sea. Christs vests us with the lifejacket of His peace and hope, which no wave, storm, or chaos can overcome. The Apostle Peter had to let go in order to stay afloat. The presence of Christ made it okay for him to let go. Each day Christ waits for us on this sea of life to have this encounter.