God turns up unexpectedly.
There are protocols in life about how we communicate with one another – both the means of communication and the accepted norms that go with it. When we were kids we always went directly to the back door of my grandparents’ house. A quick knock and straight through the door. We would invariably find my grandmother at the stove putting on the kettle or placing a batch of scones in the oven. If the front door bell rang everyone would sit up. There must be a visitor at the door. Someone on important or official business. Anyone familiar would use the back door.
We used to visit our cousins in Emerald on a Sunday afternoon from time to time. My Aunty would invariably greet us with ‘I was half expecting you today’. They were always home and Sunday was a day when you either visited or received visitors.
And there are protocols for phone calls too aren’t there. Once upon a time you would answer the phone and announce the number and your name. It was a quick way of establishing that the connection was the right one: the correct numbers had been ‘dialled’ and you had made contact with the right person. Now when the phone rings – generally the mobile phone, we look at the screen to see from who the incoming call is coming. There is a growing tendency to send a text message first to see if it is convenient to ring. Not many surprise in telephone calls today.
What has all of this got to do with today’s Mass and today’s readings? Well, it seems to me that both the Book of Kings (today’s first reading), and Matthew’s account of Jesus calming the sea, talk to us of a God who makes surprise visits and breaks through our preconceived notions of who God is and how he communicates. The Scriptures are replete with narratives of human beings trying to discern the presence of God. Where is God? Where did he go? I thought we knew who he was and what he wanted, but, he has eluded us again. In the case of Elijah we hear that God was not found in the mighty winds or the quaking earth. No trumpet blasts and lightning flashes announce his presence or reveal his face. No. Instead it is in the sound and touch of the gentle breeze that God is discovered. It requires stillness, attentiveness and perseverance in order to recognise and connect with the God of life. Nothing flashy and showy about our God according to the Book of Kings.
This can be instructive for us today as well. For it may be that we too will discover the presence of God in stillness and quiet, away from the high drama of breaking news, family crisis, rising numbers of infections and other pressing concerns that impact on our lives. And paradoxically the very real power of God’s presence in our lives comes to us in a gentle and subtle way. God can bring a powerful calmness of spirit and mind that actually assists us in traversing the storms of life we face.
This is also the experience of the disciples in Matthews gospel today. It is beyond their wildest dreams that Jesus would be walking towards them on the lake in the midst of a heavy sea and a head wind. So far from their imaginations was this possibility, so unexpected was this visit, that we are told the disciples were terrified and cried out, ‘it is a ghost!’. And yet, it is the one who is prepared to walk directly into the storm of their lives, who calls out, ‘courage, it is I’ who brings stillness and the dropping of the fierce winds, who stand before them. And he brings to them the presence of the very God who they felt had abandoned them at sea. They are struck with awe that God could be so close to them in their need.
So we discover that Jesus, the Christ, is the one who walks head-on into our stormiest pathways to step into the fray with us. So unexpected is his visit that we might miss him if we do not slow down and look around or look inward. He is there. And when we are awakened to the presence of the gentleness of God we may be led to make unexpected visits too. We might have the courage to break the silence with a friend we know is suffering; to pick up the phone and call someone this week; to ask the question – is everything alright? Are you ok? How are you going? Let me know what I can do? For God calls us to live in his image and be like a gentle breeze or a friendly face not afraid of walking into the headwinds. We can only do that when we have allowed him into the vulnerable spaces of our own lives. If we lift up our heads we may see him coming to visit us.