Robby B. Echavez, MAEd, RPm, RPsy, MAGC (cand.)
A gospel story, Matthew 14:22-33, tells of a doubly bewildered group of disciples, the Twelve, in a boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee. A head-wind had hard pressed the boat with rough waves. Jesus’ rescue, at first, did little to calm the men down. He had to remind them that it was him, not some phantom, coming to save them. The wind died down, along with their doubts and the rest is Biblical history.
Countless homilies have given the wind a bad rep here. It has come to metaphorize the storms of life; the hard winds of living that batter us, threatening to sink those of little faith. However it is no less than the First Reading that preludes this Gospel in the Liturgy of the Word that clears the wind’s name and redeems it from our demonized indictments.
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”First Kings 19:12-13
What is a voice, but a soft wind? It is here where “I” resides, in our voice; in the soft murmur produced by the stirrings of the wind that comes to us, resides in us, and departs from us in the natural cycle of our breathing. It is the same voice and wind that tells the disciples, “Courage. It is I”; the same breath and soft murmur that asks, “Why are you here?” It is the same wind we invoke when we remind someone waiting in the wings, anxious of what performance he is to give in front of the audience, “Breathe! Take a deep breath! That’s it, you can do this!” It is the same wind, sometimes strongly expelled when we knock the wind off someone or gently present when we tell the wind our problems, leaving it to carry it far away and strew it afield.
It is no foe. It is where we are. In fact, it is what is being threatened by this pandemic and by death itself. As a respiratory condition, we lose to COVID-19 when it takes our breath away, unfortunately not in the romantic sense, but in the crudest and most literal way, so when we cease to breathe, we cease to be. The many who continue to suffer from the psychological effects of the pandemic, are pained by some sort of breathlessness. If not physical, a psychological dyspnea. A psychogenic heaviness, light-headedness, choking sensation.
It wasn’t the wind that made them afraid. It was their fear that brought about the storm. And it died down when they were en-couraged. So too our many fears and anxieties, our paranoia the psychoanalysts would say, are brewing a perfect storm, stirring the winds making us doubly afraid– anxious of the fears we have magnified and the many phantoms we have resurrected. Such a maelstrom we have created that many of us are at a loss and sinking and sinking fast in economic hardship, despair, grief, and a bleakness surpassed only by the abyss of the unknown and death itself.
We have to have more faith in ourselves. We need to put trust back where it truly is– in the deepest recesses of the human soul where you might find Yahweh, or the Enlightened One, or the Spirit, or who or whatever. You know it is there. To get there we will need a bit of help from people and experiences that can say to us, “Do not be afraid. It is I” To get your breath back; to be reminded you still have it, seek those who will encourage you. Come near to those who instill hope, not fear.
We will know who they are. Because when they ask, “Why are you here?” we will be able to answer. People who drive us to despair and frustrate us, filling us with tension and anx, are hard to respond to. When they ask us, “Why are you here?” their tone of voice is often condescending, angry, and dismissive. We dare not answer. When we approach those who fortify us however, when they ask the same question, alas! We know we are with encouragers because their caring evokes the truth from us and we say…
I am here because…I Am Here
I feel lonely
I am hurt
I want to tell you something
I wish to be heard
I can’t take anymore
I’m done for
I’m fed up
I can’t do it
I need you.
And when our voice speaks, the breath comes back and we’re back. It is not foe. It is where we are.