It’s not every day that I get to float for as long as I want in the Sea of Galilee. So, when that day came recently, my reaction was simple and pure gratitude.
After swimming about twenty-five yards from shore, I turned on my back to float, and saw the Mount of Beatitudes beyond the reeds. I was grateful for Jesus. I was grateful that he taught from that Mount about a loving God who invites us to share divine life by loving one another, especially our enemies. I was grateful that, close to where I was floating or maybe right AT the spot where I was floating, Jesus spoke parables to crowds to help them understand the gracious reality of God’s presence in the world. The healing, the exorcising of demons, the feeding…all right here on this sacred stretch of shore.
This gratitude for Jesus overflowed into more gratitude. I was grateful for my parents who paid for my swimming lessons, and for those who taught me how to swim. For everyone who had a hand in the food I ate for breakfast or made it possible for me to ride a bicycle to the shore that day, I was grateful. Really, I thought, what is there not to be grateful for? The temperature was eighty-nine degrees, and I was floating in the Sea of Galilee with nothing else to do. All seemed right with the world.
Then I recalled where I would be two days later, spending the night locked inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher that contains both the place of Jesus’ crucifixion and the empty tomb, the place of his resurrection. I recalled that Jesus voluntarily left lovely Galilee and went to Jerusalem to enter his passion and pour out his life on the cross. That was the mission of his life.
I shuddered a bit as I realized that, as a follower of Jesus, I could not cling to Galilee’s comfort. The pattern of Jesus’ life was a movement from fullness to emptying himself for the salvation of the world. To be in communion with Christ is to share in his mission. It might seem on a sunny day floating in the Sea of Galilee that all is right with the world, but the truth is otherwise. Followers of Jesus share his mission to bring healing love into situations that need it so badly. That means going to Jerusalem, putting higher value on mission than comfort, and finding ways that we can stretch ourselves to help others, often at some cost to our comfort. Reluctantly, I concluded that it is not enough to be grateful.
As I floated and pondered both the importance of this mission and my own resistance to it, I remembered something about floating. It’s easier to float on your back after taking a big, deep breath. I did so, and felt my body rise effortlessly in the water. The connection to the spiritual life came quickly to mind. We breathe in the breath of God, full of love and blessing. We breathe out lives of service, full of mercy, patience and the struggle to be strong for those who are hurting. Both the breath in and the breath out are essential, and they need to follow one another, again and again.
I’ll probably never again have a day when I can float in the Sea of Galilee for as long as I want. But I can breathe in the breath of God and allow that to lift me, wherever I am. With that strategy for life, I left the sacred shore and within a few hours stepped onto a bus bound for Jerusalem.