The Wild Places Bible Guide – 23

The Wild Places – Day 22

Wednesday, April 10 

Mark 4:35-41 (CEB) 

35 Later that day, when evening came, Jesus said to them, “Let’s cross over to the other side of the lake.” 36 They left the crowd and took him in the boat just as he was. Other boats followed along. 

37 Gale-force winds arose, and waves crashed against the boat so that the boat was swamped. 38 But Jesus was in the rear of the boat, sleeping on a pillow. They woke him up and said, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re drowning?” 

39 He got up and gave orders to the wind, and he said to the lake, “Silence! Be still!” The wind settled down and there was a great calm.40 Jesus asked them, “Why are you frightened? Don’t you have faith yet?” 

41 Overcome with awe, they said to each other, “Who then is this? Even the wind and the sea obey him!” 

Points of Interest 

  • All four of the gospels, in different ways, include scenes of Jesus crossing over. Jesus deliberately leads his friends away from comfort, familiarity, prosperity, and ease into complex, cross-cultural, disorienting experiences. In this sense, stepping into wild places can be a healthy part of movement toward God and toward growth. 
  • The boat was swamped, and somehow Jesus was asleep. This is one of my favorite moments in perhaps my favorite sections of the Bible (Mark 4 and 5). In chaos and trouble, perhaps we always wonder if God is with us and if God cares. And perhaps God is always with us, always cares, and is always calm – present, but not overwhelmed. 
  • What a surreal, magical moment: Jesus giving orders to the wind and speaking to the lake, bending nature toward silence and a great calm! I feel a tension with this scene. It is extraordinarily evocative and beautiful, and I don’t doubt God’s enormous power to do strange and beautiful things. And yet, this is not usually how God operates – with or without our prayers, overwhelming laws of nature, adjusting science for our benefit. I’m sorry to name this tension without a simple resolution to it, but I like being honest in these guides. I’ll only add that I feel about this scene like I do about all things epic. Epically amazing moments really happen, unusual as they are, and hard as they are to believe to those who weren’t there. I find them beautiful and glorious and important to my life and faith, but I don’t let them lead me to despise the ordinary. In other words, in the great majority of ordinary days and ordinary struggles, I hope to experience God with me – adding hope, love, peace, and joy to my experience – without changing my circumstances. When my life or circumstances are altered, and stunningly, well, that’s pretty awesome as well of course, just not the usual course of things. 
  • This trip ends as so many good things do, with wonder. To be overcome by life is natural for us, but also maybe a sign that our faith has grown thin. To be overcome with awe may be a sign that we’re near to God. 

A Direction for Prayer 

Pray for your friends and family whose wild places of overwhelming problems or chaos are known to you. Ask Jesus to be in the boat with them. Pray that God brings such peace, stillness, and help to them that they are moved to wonder and gratitude. 

Spiritual Exercise of the Week 

God with Me Mediation – We take a few minutes of quiet and welcome Jesus to be God with us. Ask Jesus, how are you with me right now? How do you see and know me? How are you present with me in all my strengths and weaknesses, in all my joys and stresses and sorrows? After a few moments of imaginative prayer, welcoming Jesus’ presence with you, close by praying this excerpt from the ancient prayer, The Breastplate of Saint Patrick

Christ beside me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ within me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.

Embodied, Holistic Faith

A Whole Body Approach to Mental Health

This summer I read a book on exercise and the brain that helped me think about how my own understandings of faith and human flourishing have grown over time.

The book is by the highly acclaimed psychiatrist Dr. John Ratey. It’s his work Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. Ratey stars his book in an innovative high school physical education program and ends with a rousing call to a more rigorous personal exercise regimen. In between, he reviews a great deal of research on the benefits of exercise for the health and resilience of our brains, including how exercise can help us learn and reduce troubles associated with stress, anxiety, depression, ADHD, addiction, and aging.

Wow, I thought – that’s good news! And the work confirms my experience with the role running plays in my own mental health and managing of ADHD, and with the help it’s been to a number of my friends in recovery. I think running gives me clarity and focus, just as a number of my friends find it helps them be less inclined to return to their drug addictions.

Turns out there’s science backing this up: Ratey affirms the value of therapy and of medication at the center of his field but is clearly wanting to broaden our approach to and understanding of mental health. He writes:

The problem with the strictly biological interpretation of psychology is that we sometimes lose sight of the fact that the mind, brain, and body all influence one another. (119)

We needn’t treat mental health issues as disembodied problems we talk or medicate ourselves out of. We can explore how the use of our bodies is integrated into our mental health as well.

Ratey also quotes his colleague, the psychologist Dr. Robert Pyles, who says:

Exercise saved my life. I think running really put me back with the unitary nature of body and mind – it’s all one thing. We’re not split into pieces. (83)

For Ratey, exercise was part of his way out of a serious lymph system disease that was accompanied by immense stress and significant depression.

We’re all one thing – we’re not split into pieces.

Sometimes we lose sight of the fact that the mind, brain, and body all influence one another. We are whole people, embodied people.

What About a Whole Body Faith?

What Ratey wants for psychology and psychiatry, I want for faith and religion.

For good or for bad, people of faith have had lots to say about matters of the spirit. Wonder about how to go to heaven when you die? Where and when and why to pray? What it means to be a good and righteous person? Religious communities have an answer for you, or at least a direction to point you in.

Those are not the questions my friends and I are asking about our lives. Being saved doesn’t make the kind of intuitive sense to us as being well. Tending to our spirits doesn’t make sense apart from tending to our minds and bodies as well. If faith is going to speak to my life, it’s going to need to speak to my real, authentic self.

I’m serious about my exercise, but I put more into my practice of faith. Not because I’m afraid of hell or particularly motivated to a more moral or spiritual person. No – for me, faith centers, grounds and nourishes my whole, embodied person.

An embodied, holistic faith gives me resources to make peace with my past, so I can live a freer future.

An embodied, holistic faith helps me accept mental and physical disabilities, navigating my own and others’ with more compassion and grace.

An embodied, holistic faith gives me tools to be more connected and at peace with others.

An embodied, holistic faith moves my experience of sexuality beyond shame or pleasure and into intimacy.

An embodied, holistic faith validates my anger in the face of injustice and fuels passion and courage to act.

If we’re all one thing, all whole and embodied people, we need an experience of faith, a practice of spirituality, and an approach to God that validates and nourishes the whole of our bodies and life experience, and equips us to flourish and be agents of the flourishing of our neighbor and our world too.