Swooning on the Sea of Galilee

See Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
Proper 12 (year B), July 29, 2012
“we become what we consume”

When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.  -John 6:16-21

Whatever the 21st century equivalent of swooning is, I do it over passages from a book on John’s Gospel by Bruno Barnhart’s (OSB Cam.) The Good Wine: Reading John from the Center. (Paulist Press, 1993.)  No matter how small your personal spiritual and Biblical library is, this book belongs there.

The Good Wine contains a most extraordinary commentary upon the Crossing of the Sea. These ten pages are hard to describe because Bruno presents his points in imagery that begins one way and then loops back from another direction, leaving more depth as it weaves back, like thread on a loom. Not only that, but the overall pattern is a mandala, so that you must see the whole of the book to appreciate the parts. His writing is gorgeous. My poor, much-loved beat-up volume!

Bruno argues that the story of Jesus walking on the sea centers the whole of John’s Gospel, which lays out in a chiastic way. Thus, the crossing of the sea becomes the primary image around which all the other images in John’s Gospel radiate in concentric circles.

detail, Garden of Earthly Delights, Hieronymus Bosch, c.1500

Within the darkness and chaos of creation, the “I AM” does not part the sea but walks upon it and subdues it.  This new exodus inaugurates a new creation.  As on the first day of creation the immanent presence of Jesus evokes the “Let there be light” of Genesis 1 and the “In the beginning” of John’s prologue.  The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it. (John 1:5)

The “I Am” is spoken in the manifestation upon the sea of Galilee, by the creative Word that was in the beginning, according to the prologue, and that now appears in Jesus, striding over these dark waters which recall the primeval chaos of Genesis 1:1. (p.67)

All beginnings are born together in this place where, in darkness, the light shines over the waters. Here the world originates from nothingness; here the Word is generated from the invisible fullness of the Father, then shines in the night of the creation. Here, again, begins the new creation within the divine darkness and within the darkness of created being.

This meeting place of sea and land, of air and water, of light and darkness, becomes the boundary of boundaries.
… (p.70)

Within these ten pages, Bruno also references Hindu and Buddhist cosmology, contemporary psychology, liturgy and baptism. What a feast!

And somehow your own soul engages and belongs within this cosmic event:

Here upon the dark waters, at this boundary, is the place of awakening, of compunction and metanoia, the place of silent meditation and of creative inspiration. Here in this darkness is the womb of creative life. It is the place of poverty and expectancy, the place of all potential. Here we are all fishers. And here in our poverty we are in touch with the dark depths of God, from which the light is born into our world. (p.70)


I can not resist one more quote:

For a long time, without understanding why, I had found a particular fascination in these gospel stories of Jesus and his disciples upon the sea. While the context and details vary, in each of these stories one feels the surging forth of a majesty, a gravitational force, from Jesus, which silently reorders the cosmos around him. Suddenly in the midst of a churning universe, this man appears, a diminutive light in the immense darkness, and everything comes into harmony around him, all the tumult subsides into a wondering hush where he stands. We find ourselves in the presence of one who seems to have stepped out of John’s prologue into the midst of the world’s dark disorder, and swallowed it up in his peace. A sovereign center, gently emanating this mysterious power to which all being must respond, is revealed here in Jesus.  p.64-5

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: