One aspect of the journey of grief is that certain legs of the journey are tumultuous like a storm. The readings for the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) bring incredible insight into the storms of grief. In reading these passages through the lens of grief and using them to pray and converse with God, we can be consoled and assured of His continual presence to us in our grief.
The first reading is taken from the Book of Job 38:1,8-11. The entire Book of Job is one of the real treasures of the Bible because it illustrates the tension that exists between God’s sovereignty over all of creation and humanity’s mortality. The principle question of Job is the principle question of grief – God, if you are all-power, all-loving, and all-good, why does unspeakable tragedy, suffering and death fall upon your children? Job was a just and righteous man. Despite the claims of his friends, all that befell Job was not a direct result of his sin or misdeeds before the eyes of God. Yet, as we read toward the end of the Book of Job, neither can Job claim equal status to God.
This passage in Chapter 38 reveals the power of God over all of creation. The first detail to note is that God addressed Job out of the storm. It was not after the storm when things had calmed down and everyone had a moment to gather themselves. This would have squandered a critical moment for Job to understand. The terror, fear, darkness, and travail of being in the midst of a violent storm stirs something within our humanity. It takes that experience of being insignificant in the face of such power and might for us to understand our own mortality and vulnerability, and be receptive to the voice of God. In the moment of that experience, God is able to say something to Job. In pointing to the limits of the sea and the attributes of the storm, God draws attention that these came from Him and are controlled by Him.
In our grief, God wants to say something to us; something which cannot be communicated and expressed to us at any other time or in any other way because of the barriers of sin and vice in our life. Death and grief demolish those barriers, perhaps inadvertently, but remove them none-the-less. God speaks tenderly to those who are brought low and sit with Him at the foot of the cross.
This leads to the Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 107: 23-26,28-31). Reading Job and this passage through the lens of grief, it can be symbolically likened to the ship sailing through stormy seas. In grief, we cry to the Lord often because we are under constant distress. The waves of grief can be, “mounted up to heaven,” or they can “sink to the depths.” The waves on the stormy sea of grief take the form of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, or take a person into the lowest depths of sorrow that tempts one to despair. If our hearts faint and wonder, “Why, Lord?” or “Where are you, Lord?”, He gives a promise in Psalm 107 that he has command over the storm, and is able to calm the raging winds and violent waves to bring His children to a place of safety.
In the Gospel passage (Mark 4:35-41), Jesus fulfills this promise. Again, the imagery of a storm is used to show the vulnerability of our humanity. Many of the disciples were skilled fishermen. For them to be frightened at the dangers of this storm was to show that the storm was serious. They knew that people did not survive the type of storm they were in. It was quite rational for them to be afraid. “Do you not care that we are perishing?”
And at the same time, Jesus asks them, “Why are you terrified?” Like the tension that exists in the Book of Job, there is a tension that exists in this passage. It is between the rational fear of being in the face of death or in the aftermath of death, and the fact that God is all-powerful, all-loving, all-good, and ever-present to us. Both statements—the “Do you not care” and the “Why are you terrified”—are reasonable questions to ask. The determining factor is, how is it that I am thinking? Am I thinking like man or am I thinking like God?
This is the challenge of grief—to respond out of the mortality of my humanity or to respond from the victory, love, and mercy of God. If death is the storm, then the waves that seek to consume the bereaved are symbolic of grief. They really and truly are dangerous waves. Yet, Jesus is present with us in the boat traveling the journey of grief with us. His dominion and power over death and the effects of grief are complete. We only must ask him for help. There is no shame in asking Jesus to calm the stormy stretches of grief. Every storm that he calms strengthens us for the rest of the journey. When Jesus asks, “Do you not yet have faith?”, he asks in hopes that we recognize his presence with us and his power over death and grief. Every time he calms a storm for us, it is an opportunity to recognize and remember his goodness and mercy, even in the face of sorrow and grief. Each time he consoles and comforts us in the depths of our mourning, He is transforming our thinking from that of a fallen and doomed humanity into that of an eternally alive child of God! No longer do we know, judge or relate to God in terms of the flesh, but in terms of the Risen Christ! No longer do we live in fear, but we live as a child of God!
“So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Corinthians 5:14-17)