The story is told in the Gospels (Luke 8: 22 – 25) of how Jesus and his disciples were crossing the Sea of Galilee when a storm blew up and, with Jesus asleep, the disciples, some of whom were experienced sailors, were terrified of drowning, and of how they woke him up and he “rebuked the winds and sea”, and the storm immediately subsided – leaving the disciples, who had already witnessed incredible miracles, to ask themselves just who this man really was that even the elements obeyed his command.
This story has always moved me deeply. Thinking about why this is, my thoughts go back to the village church in Ireland where my father was born and brought up. Although from a farming family himself, my father’s village is a fishing village, situated on the wild west coast of County Clare, facing the vast Atlantic ocean. Quite appropriately, the front of the altar cloth in the very centre of the village church proclaims: “For the winds and sea obey”, being a straight quote from the Gospel story.
I can only begin to imagine how important and sustaining this message was to the fishermen of the village who worshipped there – as they daily risked their lives as they set out on the unpredictable water in their small currachs (the traditional boats of that area). Perhaps something in my deep memory and soul resonates from my background although I was born and brought up far away from that beautiful but rugged place?
Incidentally, but I think relevant to this blog, is the amazing story of how the small church came to be built in this isolated and historically poor part of Ireland. In 1907 a French ship, the Leon XIII, was sailing past the bay when a storm caused it to hit dangerous reefs and start sinking and the lives of the crew were in extreme peril. The village fishermen, seeing their plight, bravely set out in their flimsy currachs even as the storm continued to rage – at great risk to themselves – and somehow managed to save most of the crew. Incredibly, after clinging on to the wreckage, the rest of the crew were all saved by another ship the following day.
Afterwards, a national fund raising was started to finance the building of a church as the villagers, poor folk of strong faith, had long wished for a church. And so, a church was built for them, and the ship’s bell of the Leon XIII (later found at auction in London) stands in the sanctuary of Our Lady, Star of the Sea church to this day. And the church’s tall round tower (a traditional structure in Celtic Ireland) is visible for many miles, both inland and out in the ocean – giving perhaps a very concrete and tangible reminder of a spiritual reality.
As a non swimmer myself and someone with a very healthy respect for the sea, I can only wonder at the selfless courage of those men back in 1907 and at such a fitting legacy that they left for us.
You might say, well God certainly didn’t quieten the storm for them, but I think that’s to miss the point: a God who can command the mighty elements is also a God who can deliver on a promise of eternal life and whose Son has demonstrated that not even death can separate us from His love. The Gospel story is ultimately a clear call for us to trust and keep faith in God. It would surely have meant so much to those men.
This Gospel story moves me to tears. Maybe this is due to my own heritage? Maybe we can all allow different Gospel stories to resonate with our deepest feelings and influences, and thereby be brought closer to the God who – in the last analysis – is in control of all our destinies?
As the old song says: “Hear us as we cry to Thee, for those in peril on the sea.”
Go well, with love,