Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened….Matthew 14: 28-30
It isn’t that I lack the courage In fact last time I checked I am the only one who steps out who puts myself on the line who leaps out of the boat half-naked or sticks close enough behind to be accused of being his follower And I’m the one who has the courage to blurt what everyone else is thinking but is afraid to say for fear of looking like a damn fool I’m the one who draws the sword I’m the one who lops off the ear I’m the one who tells him to his face “You can’t go to Jerusalem! They’ll kill you–” and sure enough I’m the one who gets compared to Satan No I don’t lack courage impetuous courage impulsive courage yes I confess I’m ready for the fight ready for the showdown the throwdown in the moment of decision I’ve got plenty of courage but the follow-through I mean when they start pointing the finger “Aren’t you one of his followers?” “Didn’t I see you hanging out with him?” “I’m sure I saw you with him–” No, no that wasn’t me You’ve got me confused with somebody else I don’t even know the man– And that’s what happened that night I dared that ghost to order me out of the boat Never did I ever think he’d actually call my bluff And well it wasn’t a bluff was it I was fully prepared to get out of that boat, and I did And look at me I’m walking on water Then Wait a minute Is this really happening How can this be happening No one can do this this can’t really be happening– can it? And swept into that swirl of thoughts I look down into the dark swirl of water Big mistake It’s like as long as I kept looking at that bright shadow in the distance I was under some kind of spell and there I was walking pretty as you please right across the face of the deep But when I looked down Just to confirm that I really was walking on waves I thought Simon, you idiot You’ve done it again What the hell were you thinking And that’s just it like my mother always said I wasn’t thinking I don’t think I never think I just jump up and charge off And suddenly I’m flapping in the wind caught in the waves away from the boat away from the safety of the boat I know boats I trust boats Been working with them all my life I know boats like I know nets like I know where the fish are I know the best spots to fish You don’t last long as a fisherman if you don’t know that And I depend on boats for my work So I know them My boats are sturdy seaworthy And granted we don’t have to go far but sometimes you get caught in weather like that night It’s just a little ways to land but when the wind is against you when you can’t make headway you might as well be sailing off the edge of the earth A man can drown in that lake I know the currents I know the shallow spots and the whirlpools and I know how to steer between them But when the wind is against you and the waves are up- Like 3 young men off the coast of Iona A 5-minute ferry ride to the island of Mull You can stand on one side and wave to people waiting on the other But make no mistake that thin stretch is treacherous, and one day 3 young men who’ve been sailing in that water all their lives capsize and drown Imagine the wail that went up that night, a wail solid as a wall from those little houses, from that small tight-knit community A man can drown in familiar waters doing familiar things forget just for a moment the challenges of the deep and step off the side of the boat on his own dare into the dark arms of swirling water When I looked down that’s all I saw waves that pull you under slap you around like a fish flapping on the shore And in that moment I knew my impetuous courage my brute bravery was no match for the world As I slipped beneath the waves that threatened to close over my head leaving no trace I felt a warm hand slip into mine (this was no ghost) and a current swept up under me and through me and I began to rise. He shook his head and said, Why did you doubt? (Why did you doubt?) I have no answer, Rabbi I don’t know why It isn’t I think I’ll start doubting now It’s just that somehow when the waves are up and the wind is against me I can’t keep from looking down fascinated by the deep spellbound by fear hooked by all that threatens And hey what about you Why should I let you off the hook What about your part in this Why do you appear as some luminous shadow Why can’t you be always solid like that warm hand like the wood on the deck of my boat like something I can understand Why do I have to place my faith in something that hovers in mist just beyond my sight No answer? No answer. We step back into the boat sail on to the other side of the lake to our next destination Maybe there is no answer To any of it Maybe only in the stepping out in the courage to dare those waves Maybe only in the willingness to risk drowning will I find that warm hand my way back to the boat and back to land
Note: This piece was written as a monologue, delivered as a meditation on Matthew 14:22-33.