“Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Matt. 14:22-23.
Bay Area writer Anne Lamont says there are only three prayers: “Help, Thanks & Wow.” It’s the title of one of her most profound books.
In today’s first reading from the Book of Kings and our Gospel passage from Matthew, we listen to cries for help from both the prophet Elijah and the Apostle Peter.
In all of our lives, at certain moments, there are cries help — sometimes troubling family issues or bouts with physical or emotional pain – here we seek God’s healing presence and peace of mind.
Knowing full well that immediate relief or resolution may be far off, at a great distance, or simply impossible — in these moments, Jesus tells us, “Take courage.”
The prophet Elijah was “disturber of the status quo,” and was told so by King Ahab as well as Ahab’s wife, Jezebel. In effect, Elijah was “trouble maker” and was troubled himself.
In the case of Elijah, his speaking “truth to power” forced him to flee to Mount Horeb. This is the very place where God spoke to Moses and nourished the Jewish people with bread, water, and mostly his divine voice. Elijah needed God’s help.
Instead of the kind of a dramatic deliverance provided to Moses with parting the Red Sea, Elijah was told: “Go outside and stand on the mountain before the Lord; the Lord will be passing by.”
But the Lord was not in the wind, nor the earthquake nor the fire, rather only a” tiny whispering sound.”
So Elijah hid his face, stood at the entrance of the cave, and listened to the quiet presence of God, the very “sound of silence.”
Elijah’s cry for help was followed much later by thanks, and wow!
As for Saint Peter, he walked on the sea, and then cried out: “Lord, save me!”
And Jesus’s loving embrace, not only rescued Peter, but also extended — those who were on the shore: the sick, and (as we read a little later in the text) “anyone who so much touched the tassel of his cloak was healed that day.”
Again, Peter’s cry for help was followed by thanks, and wow!
Earlier this week, my twenty-seven-year-old nephew, Phil, telephoned me, he was much disturbed by the news of his co-worker’s death. Phil’s friend had taken his own life.
Perhaps there was a cry for help? No one heard this young man’s plea.
The high statistics for suicide among young people combined with today’s drug and opioid epidemic prompt us to listen more carefully to cries of help, however faint or even unspoken.
As a society, we need to forward the work and programs of mental health professionals and the educational community.
As people of faith, we must be more committed to the needs of others, that those confused or depressed may feel thankful to God, and in the long-run, see our assistance as a sign of his comfort and love.
Much like Elijah listening at the entrance of the case, we may need a “safe space” to hear these “whispering sounds” of assurance and courage.
For these precious souls, and so much like Elijah and Peter, we are to be “still for the presence of the Lord.”
Listen, then, to the wind, the silence, and the sea.
In the words of a favorite hymn of mine by British composer David Evans:
“Be still for the presence of the Lord….
Be still for the power of the Lord is moving in this place.
He comes to cleanse and heal — to minister his grace.
No work too hard from him.
In faith, we receive from him.
Be still for the power of the Lord.
Be still is moving in this place.”
San Carlos Cathedral, Monterey, CA.