Letters to Peregrinus #35 - Walking on Water

The Disciples See Christ Walking on the Water by Henry Ossawa Tanner (c. 1907)
Dear Peregrinus:

You may not know me, but I have heard so much about you from our mutual friend Fr. Ganz that I feel as if I know you well. I have missed the regular company of Fr. Ganz here at the International Headquarters of the Faber Institute while he has spent the past two months 383 miles northeast of Portland in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. He told me yesterday that he had walked 366.6 miles so far, as part of physical regimen while away from Portland, since going to Idaho on June17th. I am grateful that he will soon be back in town, though I am starting to wonder if I will even recognize him when he returns!

In the meantime, I thought that I would write to you, Peregrinus, because my go-to spiritual advisor and friend and boss just an office away does not return to Portland until Saturday.
Tara Ludwig, a Spiritual Director here at the Institute, wrote to you in July on the theme of “be not afraid.” I started to reflect on my own fears and have begun to feel that it is time for me to let go of them, to let go of the wrong kind of fears. I hope that you don’t mind receiving my thoughts, Peregrinus, and then, if you wish and have time, I hope that you will reply with the wisdom that Fr. Ganz so respects you for having.

The thing is, I like the sense of control. One of the reasons I like to have control is because I think that if I’m in control then there will be less unknowns. And I often fear the unknown. I like thinking of myself as the captain of the ship, a ship we will call My Life. And I do everything in my control to keep the voyage of My Life smooth sailing.

But inevitably, a storm comes. And soon enough the storm’s power overwhelms my power to control it. Or better, my sense of my right, or my ability, to control my circumstances is blown away into the storm.

I don’t know where you are from, Peregrinus, or where you currently reside, but I’m from Texas: the Lone Star State. People say that everything is bigger in Texas, and I have to admit that it’s true. Not only are football stadiums and trucks and hair bigger in Texas, but the storms are bigger, too. The rain in Texas presents itself in a bigger way than the rain in Portland, where I currently reside. Drizzle, sprinkle, mist, shower – these are not words that are typically used to describe a Texas rain.

I have to say, I miss a good Texas storm with thunder and lightning and wind and those ominous rain clouds. Have you ever experienced a storm like that, Peregrinus? There isn’t much that is better than sitting on a couch wrapped up in a blanket watching a storm roll in.

But Texas storms can also be frightening, and they deserve respect.

Saint Peter knows what I’m talking about. He and the disciples got caught in a storm, but while they were outside, in a small boat, on the suddenly raging surface of the Sea of Tiberias, and at night! Can you imagine how terrifying that would have been? And how miserably cold, and wet, and exhausted they must have become?

I can relate to Peter in the boat, and I want to be more like Peter on the water. While I would rather like to remain as Peter in the boat, I am beginning to feel that Jesus is calling me to learn how to be the Peter who steps out of the boat.

Matthew 14:24-32 – When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25 And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

28 Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. [1]

My attention to this well-known and powerful text has increased, because I have continued to run across the text in the last few weeks (a surprise, and an urge to dive, pun intended, deeper into the story). And though I have still much to learn from this text, here are some of the things that I have begun to see there. I mention these here as a series of points as a way of owning up that I am still very much in process of trying to understand.

Jesus came to the disciples out of nowhere, in the most unexpected way. Jesus hardly ever shows up how I would expect him to. He regularly surprises me, coming to me in ways that it never occurred to me that He could, or would. Like the disciples, I sometimes don’t even recognize him. But he shows up in my moment of need when I am overwhelmed with fear. Thank God he shows up.

FEAR was the dominant emotion in Peter and the disciples. I have begun to recognize that at the root of my bad habit of “control” lies FEAR. I do not like being afraid. How easy it is to allow the fear that creeps into our minds to take power over our thoughts, and ultimately our actions. As Tara mentioned in her letter, the feeling of fear is real and natural. But being fearful is what God commands us not to do. I may not to be able to control various events and circumstances that bring that feeling of fear, but I can control my response to fear by not letting it take over my being.

Peter asks that Jesus draw him out to the water, to be with him. Peter did not ask Jesus to come into the boat. This is how I want to be more like Peter. I usually want Jesus to come into my story and sort things out on my turf. The last thing that my normal self would consider doing is to leave ‘my’ world and to enter His world. Stepping out of my story means giving up “control” and stepping into the unknown. For Peter, stepping out of the boat and onto the water meant completely trusting Jesus. That is one bold step! But Jesus calls us into his story. The invitation is there. And his story is way better than ours.

When Peter stepped out of the boat in pursuit of Jesus, he soon enough took his eyes off of Jesus. Deciding to walk towards Jesus is the first step. But it’s easy to takes our eyes off of Him, and as soon as we do we start to sink. Peter had every good reason to feel quite terrified, and to turn away. Who walks on a raging sea?? But the only way to keep fear and worry from drowning us is to try to stay focused and keep our eyes on Jesus.

When Peter cried out for help, Jesus immediately reached out and saved him. Crying out for help is really hard for me to do. Because it means that I have to come to God in my weakness. This is the point in which I have to admit “I don’t have this.” And God looks straight at me and says, “I
know. I’ve got this.” And the truth is, I don’t actually want control in those moments of chaos!

When they finally climbed back in the boat, the wind calmed down. The calm after the storm comes when we hand our worries and fear over to God, follow his lead, and rest in his presence. Jesus asks me (and each of us) to enter His “world”, so that TOGETHER we may return into “my” world.

I can vividly recall several personal storms in my life. I have experienced storms of loss and sadness, chaos and confusion, hopelessness and fear. I’m sure you have experienced such storms in your life as well, Peregrinus. Many of the storms I have experienced in the past have lasted way too long, because for some reason I decided to sit in the boat with my head down, letting the rain continue to drench me. As you’ll remember, I like control. (And I like a good thunderstorm, as long as I’m inside with a warm blanket.) But I have experienced what “liking control” does to my freedom, to my relationships, and to my sense of “being with” others. I am quickly grasping that I am “liking” a habit that I wish to not like at all!

If Peter had stuck with his “liking” control of his fishing boat (he was an expert fisherman), then he would have stayed in the boat and, one would think, have gone to the bottom of the sea with it. But the Peter who decided to step out onto the water (the Peter that I want to be more like) is teaching me to look out into the storm and focus on Jesus who is walking towards me with his hand out saying, “Come on out, Mary. Step out of the boat and onto the water with me. I’ve got this.”

Pray for me, Peregrinus, as I continue to navigate the storms that encounter this ship of My Life. I will pray for those that come your way as well.

Much love from your Friend and Fellow Pilgrim,



[1] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Mt 14:23–32.
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