Fear and the Ocean Waves

By Rev. David Wilson Rogers |  May 10, 2014

            A little over two decades ago I was waiting out a storm in the comfort of my Sea Bright, New Jersey apartment. It just so happened that my Mother was also visiting me at the time and I remember she was absolutely furious with me.
            I was in the United States Coast Guard and stationed at a USCG Small Boat Station on Sandy Hook in New Jersey, only a few miles from my apartment in a unique coastal town. Sea Bright was long and narrow—spanning only a mere 50 yards in some areas and widening to about a quarter of a mile at its widest spot. The distinctive feature of this small community was that it was bordered on the west by a tidal river and on the east by the Atlantic Ocean.
            Most of the time, Sea Bright was a beautiful place. Large expanses of sandy beaches made the town a wonderful place to relax and play in the ocean. Even when storms came, the town was a fun and generally safe place to be. With a large sea wall protecting the town from the raves of the ocean, residents were really more concerned about flood waters from the tidal river than the pounding waves of ocean storms.
            The occasional Nor’easter was a whole different reality. This particularly volatile ocean storm brings relentless pounding surf, rain, wind, and damaging waves to the shoreline. Frequently the waves would completely swallow the 20 foot high and 15 foot thick sea wall as they relentlessly pounded the shore.
            This is why my Mother was angry with me. Living her entire life in Kentucky and New Mexico, Mom had never seen an ocean storm first-hand. By the time of her visit, however, I was particularly used to the storms, had learned to read the waves, and knew the difference between a big storm and a truly dangerous storm. This was not a dangerous storm!
            Mom felt differently. She and I were standing on the balcony of my second-story apartment, only 50 yards from the sea wall when a truly epic wave completely swallowed the wall, crashing up in a massive explosion of salt water, foam, and wind-driven spray. Unafraid of the torrent, I remarked how fun it was to enjoy watching the power of the raging sea. Unaccustomed to such hydraulic violence, Mom was simply mad—or perhaps more accurately, she was really afraid. Her anger was fueled in the fact that I was unconcerned about her fear.
            I am reminded of this story from my own life when I read about the disciples who were frightened in the boat as the storms of Galilee tossed them about and Jesus merely slept in the back of the boat—unafraid, unconcerned, and unaffected by the seeming aquatic catastrophe threatening them. Like my beloved Mom, their fear reacted with his ambivalence to become anger and rage.
            In our life, this scenario plays out so commonly, we often fail to make the faith connections. Things happen in life—sometime really frightening and awful things—and some people of faith simply do not get that upset. They may even seem pleased to see the tumult in the midst. Is it faith? Is it prayer? Is it ignorance? Is it stupidity? Is it something else? We may only know one thing. They do not seem to be as concerned about the danger as we are and this only adds fuel to our fear, resulting in anger.
            The faithful need not give into, or capitalize on the natural fears of others for such is not the way of Jesus Christ. Waves will crash into our lives and reality will evoke reason to be afraid. Our choice of faith, however is to follow the one who calms the storm rather than the one who only reacts in fear of the storm.