Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage* (Matthew 8:18-33) transports me to the sea of Galilee just as the weather is starting to get rough and a tiny ship is tossed. This time, though, there is no evidence of courage on the part of a fearless crew. The frightened fishermen and other disciples are scared for their lives, on the verge of being lost at sea, and in the middle of their panic they find Jesus sound asleep. I have always been drawn to this passage about Jesus snoozing in a storm. Not so much because he woke up and miraculously calmed the sea. I love it that he was sleeping. Sleep generally gets a bad rap in scripture; it’s usually a metaphor for lack of faith or lack of awareness of God’s presence. But I have to confess, like the Tom T. Hall song, I love sleep (along with little country streams and coffee in a cup and most all of the other things Tom T. loves). I especially love to sleep in a storm, with a heavy rain pattering on the roof and wind blowing through the trees.
It’s curious that this stormy sleep story comes right on the heels of Jesus telling would-be followers that foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests but he doesn’t have a place to lay his head. While he might not have had a comfortable bedroom with fluffy pillows, he did, it appears, find places to lay his head. Mark’s version of this story even tells us that he had a cushion for his head there in the belly of the boat. And for the briefest of time he allowed golden slumbers to fill his eyes. There’s a great quote from Victor Hugo that speaks to the faith Jesus had that allowed him to sleep in the storm: Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake. I have no doubts that angry waves and sorrows like sea billows will continue to roll across our frail ships, but I don’t believe that the storms we encounter call us to a life of sleep deprivation. Our faith tells us that God is awake, even if Jesus is sleeping. I might even suggest a new verse to the Casting Crowns song: if we are the Body, why aren’t we getting enough sleep?
There’s a time to nap, and a time to be awakened, though, and the end of this passage speaks of that time. After disembarking and continuing his journey on dry land, Jesus encounters two demon-possessed men emerging from the tombs, acting as if they have taken a few too many Sleeping Jesus pills or are sleep-walking zombies in a scene from Night of the Living Dead. When Jesus awakens their humanity and brings them out of their trance, they leave the tombs, headed homeward. I hope they had the courage and patience to go to sleep in peace after they adjusted to their Legion-free lives and gotten back to their daily tasks. I can imagine a couple of lullabies that might have helped them – Once there was a way to get back homeward, once there was a way to get back home; sleep pretty darling do not cry and I will sing a lullaby. Golden slumbers fill your eyes, smiles await you when you rise. . . Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart; naught be all else to me, save that Thou art. Thou my best thought, by day or by night, waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.
*Daily Passages are the weekday reflections of Stan Dotson, connecting culture to biblical texts. Each week takes its guiding theme for the daily posts from the gospel reading on Monday, the “Primary Passage.” This week’s theme is “Waking and Sleeping.” As always, your feedback and comments are welcome. Feel free to share where the passages take you in your journey of faith.