Last Sunday’s gospel reading was particularly apt — Jesus walks on the water. Let me set the scene: The apostles are huddled in a boat on a stormy sea, as lightning crackles and thunder rumbles all around them. It is dark. The sea is writhing with terrible creatures determined to suck the boat under and splinter it like a bone in the teeth of an ogre. And then they see someone — Jesus? — walking on the water, just as if he were strolling down the streets of Jerusalem. It must be a ghost! But no, the apparition speaks to them, tells them not to be afraid. Peter, ever the bonehead, speaks up, “If it’s really you, call me and I will walk on water, too.” Jesus does. Peter starts out. But then he gets distracted by the thunder and the lightning and the roiling of the dark forces under the waves, and he sinks. Like a stone. Jesus, of course, rescues him, and once again, the apostles fail to understand the lesson.

Most of us set out on the sea of life with good intentions. But we get scared when the darkness comes. A majority of us will crowd together in the boat and ride out the storm. Some of us will try to walk, but sink. The weight of the world becomes too heavy to carry, and we slip out of sight. And some few of us will take to the water, navigating the waves as naturally as the path to our front doors. How do those people do it?

I used to think that those who are skilled at walking on water (metaphorically speaking) are so because they never take their eyes off the prize — God. They hear the thunder, see the lightning, know somewhere in the recesses of their minds about what lurks beneath the waves, but they don’t get distracted. They don’t let the water pull them down. This is a simplistic notion. Many things can affect our ability to cope, for instance, illnesses and addictions that sap our strength and change brain chemistry, throwing us off balance. Try walking on water with a millstone like that around your neck.

We mustn’t judge or condemn those who don’t make it. Walking on water is an act of extreme grace. It is a daily miracle. Most of us never have to do it — we just sail along in our fortunate ships. For those who must walk on water, God can be a tremendous resource, a lighthouse beacon, a life preserver. I have experienced this in my own travels. God holds me up.

But I will never be anything but empathetic to those who drown.

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