Hold on (Matthew 14)

Posted on March 30, 2014


He swung a leg out over the edge of the boat, dropping one foot onto the surface of the water, then the other. He gripped the railing of the deck to steady himself against the winds that threatened to capsize the vessel behind him, and against the angry currents that crashed into his legs.  He was not looking at the impossible thing happening beneath him- his feet supporting him on the lake as if it was the rocky Galilean shore- but at the impossible thing in front of him: the man twenty feet away, further out on the water and also standing, motioning to him with a hand somehow visible in the darkness, calling out to him in a voice somehow audible through the roaring air.

The spray from the waves matted the hair on his arms to the skin.  He let go of the old fishing trawler, the one that he and his friends had chartered for their journey.  One of them saw this and grabbed him to keep him from sinking. He shook free, ignoring their frenzied cries. What are you doing? You’ll drown!  He’s not real!  It can’t be real!

The wind snapped at his clothing and bunched it in furrows around his body.  He walked into open water.

There was no fear, not as there should have been. He closed the distance between himself and the man, stepping with increasing confidence and growing purpose, as if the strength of his stride was in proportion to the growing audacity of his gamble.  The man watched him, wind pushing his hair to one side and rippling his tunic even as he now stood perfectly still, staring in a way that seemed to call out even louder than his words had moments ago. There was no fear.

And then there was. A swell crashed into his back, stumbling him, and the two men locked eyes, sudden terror meeting unearthly calm. At once he registered everything present in the moment- the waves, the wind, the madness, the pride, the failure. Something in his chest caved in and his feet gave way, almost at the same instant but not quite, and he was swallowed up. The fear opened a door in his mind.  Through it rushed every panicked, doubting thought possible.  He lost sight of the man completely.

He and the boat behind him were in symmetry now, each of them thrashing against the maelstrom for buoyancy and losing precious inches with each stroke. The water was at his neck. This was how he would die, the one named ‘Rock’ sinking like a stone to the bottom of the deep, joining other fishermen he had never met but who were his brothers in a fraternity of the drowned, men whom nature had punished for failing to respect its immutable laws.

He was nearly under. He felt the water against the back of his teeth as it half-filled his mouth and strangled his gasps for help.  He reached a hand into the night in search of something, anything, clutching at the stars that God had once shown his forefather Abraham as a symbol of His faithfulness, clawing the sky where his own star in that promise was now fading out, perhaps had never even burned there in the first place.

A final wave pushed him below just as a hand locked around his wrist. It grasped with fingers made powerful by years of woodwork and pulled with a motion made strong and smooth by years of pushing a saw blade. He heard words, not from above but from the deep, not from the night sky of Abraham’s promise but from the waters around him and inside him, in a voice that sounded like his own but felt very different.  Hold on.

(Matthew 14)


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