THE HOLY SPIRIT AND FIRE

Here we are at the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, marking the end of the Christmas season.

Tomorrow we’ll return to Ordinary Time.

One minute it seems we’re in awe, kneeling before the manger, and the next minute Christ is a grown man, getting baptized by John in the Jordan.

Actually, the week between Epiphany to the Baptism of the Lord is wonderfully strange. There’s been the huge lacuna of Christ’s childhood and young adulthood, and then he springs into public life fully formed. Mark recounts among other incidents the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes.

I was especially struck by the passage that comes directly after, from the Gospel this year for Wednesday, January 5.

And straightway he constrained his disciples to get into the ship, and to go to the other side before unto Bethsaida, while he sent away the people. And when he had sent them away, he departed into a mountain to pray. And when even was come, the ship was in the midst of the sea, and he alone on the land. And he saw them toiling in rowing; for the wind was contrary unto them: and about the fourth watch of the night he cometh unto them, walking upon the sea, and would have passed by them.

But when they saw him walking upon the sea, they supposed it had been a spirit, and cried out: For they all saw him, and were troubled. And immediately he talked with them, and saith unto them, Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid. And he went up unto them into the ship; the wind ceased: and they were sore amazed in themselves beyond measure, and wondered. For they considered not the miracle of the loaves: for their heart was hardened.
–Mark 6:45-52

He performs the stupendous miracle–then he sends everyone away and goes off by himself “into a mountain” to pray.

Wouldn’t you give anything to hear the conversation up there between Jesus and the Father? I mean was Christ himself sort of astounded and mystified by his own power, after having fed this huge crowd on a few fish and a little bit of bread?

Anyway, then he sees the disciples out on the sea toiling and without further ado, and no indication of how he got down from the mountain, “cometh unto them,” walking upon the sea. That’s weird enough, but what’s really weird is that “he would have passed by them.” WHY? Was he just out for a stroll? Did he frequently take this kind of constitutional under cover of night, just to think things over? Had he forgotten they could see him? Did he simply want to reassure the disciples that he was out and about, and near them, without however interrupting their fishing?

As for the disciples themselves, they were, understandingly, “troubled” and “sore amazed.” But interestingly, their hearts were hardened. Another translation ends with “They had not understood the incident of the loaves. On the contrary, their hearts were hardened.”

Again, WHY? Why wouldn’t they have been overcome with gratitude and joy? Did they begrudge Christ feeding the multitude when he could have just fed them? Were they pissed because they’d wanted to get rid of the crowd and let them fend for themselves re eating, and Christ had detained them, upsetting their schedule and plans?

Or was the whole episode so complicated and incomprehensible that parsing it would require energy and time they didn’t feel like sparing? Hey, they had work to do! (Interesting, too, that they’d dropped thier nets to follow him but apparently still fished for a living).

Anyway, meditating (in my scattershot way) upon that passage in particular made for a rich week of preparing my heart to lay one more Christmas season to rest.

I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling a sadness each year as I take down the lights, wrap the creche figures one by one in tissue paper, nestle the ornaments back into their cushioned nests, and lay Volume III of the 4-volume Liturgy of the Hours near my little prayer station in order to be ready for tomorrow morning.

Yesterday I was thinking how I never want the Christmas season to end: the delicious anticipation of Advent, the buildup to Christmas eve, the star in the East, the magi, gold, frankincense, incense and myrrh…the tinself, the glitter, the light shining in darkness.

Lent, on the other hand, I can hardly ever wait to be over: the bare altar, the fasting, the buildup to a ghastly, monstrous murder-death. The “ornaments” for Lent are a crown of thorns, a heavy cross, the nails, a spear. And like the disciples, I balk at spending an hour in the Garden of Gethsemane.

But after the joyous birth, Christ spent his whole life preparing for death. The Crucifixion was his vocation, the consummeation of his mission.

Lately I’ve heard a couple of people remark that we’re dead a whole hell of a lot longer than we’re alive.

Let’s make the most of it while we’re here!

6 Replies to “THE HOLY SPIRIT AND FIRE”

  1. Thanks for this lovely reflection. I fear I don’t have any particular insight to offer into the walking on water episode after the feeding of the multitude, but I appreciated your thoughts on it and the changing liturgical seasons.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Thanks so much, John, good to hear from you…yes, the changing of the liturgical seasons is so interesting. God never takes a rest…we pass from night to day to night…the sun still comes up the Monday after the Feast of the Baptism, and we’re still hungering for righteousness, beauty, truth, love–peace-making for life, yes. Glad to have you as a reader.

  2. Funny 😄 I had the same thoughts about WHY was he going to pass them by?

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Oh good, Kathy, I’m glad I’m not the only one. Here’s what one commentator has to say:

      “Jesus’ action is part of that theme in Mark where Jesus’ identity is simultaneously revealed and concealed. He shuts the mouths of the demons who know who he is; and in doing so, he reveals his authority over them. His power is revealed as he heals eyes, ears, and tongues (cf. Isa. 35:5-6), even raising the dead; but he gives strict orders not to tell anyone about these things. He teaches with authority; but he teaches in parables to conceal his teaching.

      And here, Jesus is revealed as one who walks on water – as God alone does; but he intends to pass by the disciples in order for his power and glory not to be perceived.”

  3. Elizabeth Dreier says: Reply

    Good insights here and some new ways for me to think about this passage. I can relate to your feelings about not wanting the Christmas season to end, especially when we are separated from loved ones. About Lent though—I’m one of those oddballs who love that season. Every year, I challenge myself in ways to sacrifice or be of service during Lent. If I slack off at all, then Easter feels like a superficial reward. Just my take on it. Thanks for this post.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Totally. Elizabeth, Lent has its own depth, richness, profound significance…liturgy, prayers…after seven weeks of fasting, almsgiving, prayer, as much daily Mass as possible, and the Triduum–I agree, Easter is a massive release/consummation. I always burst into tears when we sing “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” at the end of Mass…but at the same time, largely due to my own shallowness and native resistance to any form of sacrifice, I’m not sorry to see the liturgical season end the same way I am at the end of the Christmas season. Anyway, I love that YOU love it! We will look to you for good cheer and a power of example during Lent!

I WELCOME YOUR COMMENTS!

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