Sr. Janet Hockman, MM, reflects on ordinary yet transformative encounters with God.
I was walking on the beach late one afternoon on Tinak, Arno, in the Marshall Islands when I met Lanty, a young student. He was coming toward me with his bucket. I looked in and saw his very small catch. With a great smile he offered the fish. I was reluctant to take them knowing he fished for the family’s evening meal but refusing would be a deep hurt to hospitality. The gift humbled and disturbed me greatly.
After a few days I met Remis, Lanty’s mother, and told her of her son’s generosity. She already knew about his gift, and laughed, saying, “Sister, you don’t know the whole story.” She told me that Lanty went fishing again on his way home and caught a whole bucket full of fish!
For a long time it was Lanty’s gift that stayed with me, but his mother’s words still really prompt me to reflect. It is true -- I don’t know the whole of any story. Do you? So, the importance of listening, again and again, open-hearted and open minded is a call.
Fishing in the islands is necessary, ordinary. So is washing and mending nets. Boats are cared for and tethered well. This is all ordinary. Shores are ordinary gathering and waiting places. In this week’s Gospel, Jesus ‘caught sight’ and went into such an ordinary place, into a moment of an ordinary task and into a moment of disappointment, which is not so unusual either. Jesus knew where to find the disciples and the crowd knew where to find Jesus. Where does God find us? And when do we seek Jesus? Never discount ordinary time!
This Gospel is full of symbols and tellings: the choice of Peter’s boat and his future role, the call for collaboration in ministry, importance of proclaiming and witnessing. The biddings to be watchful, wait, trust, change, let go and leave behind are real.
In order for the boat to go just even a little distance from shore and stay in lapping waters as Jesus spoke to the crowd, there must have been an anchor. Who and what is our trusted anchor in the shallows? What’s that inhale of faith in setting out in life-depths beyond the safe and secure? How could the disciples have imagined such a life-changing call on an ordinary fishing day, even with humbling, disappointing, empty nets? Surely they, nor those gathered in the crowd, could possibly have known the whole story. “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people…”
What happens when we hear, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” The fire in the scene that Isaiah described had to touch his core, searing sin and uncertainties and excuses to exhale: “Here I am; send me.” That holy sight yielded transformation from ‘here’ into a scope of unknown sendings. A moment of offering opens into the evolving story of God, even without knowing the whole of it.
Haven’t we all seen glimpses of God? Witnessed the love of God in others and the wonder of God in creation? Hear of and experience miracles in everyday life? Maybe they are not as grand as two boat-loads of fish or a winged creature coming with a burning coal, but have they been no less challenging and potentially life-changing? But do we let them be? Can we trust God as anchor and believe that faith expands and sustains?
What does happen with hearing “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” Some are sent to leave water in the dessert, to welcome and learn from new neighbors, companion lonely ones who might tell the same story over and over, publically speak truth to power, shift life-styles in response to global warming, make career changes for compassionate public services, and keep awareness of the presence of God in the ordinary. How is the access to world-wide realities part of my prayer and push for respect and right relationships? Is what I am doing now and how I am living now an attentive part of the evolving revelation of the Gospel message? We don’t know the whole story yet, but with faith we are called to be part of it.
Jesus says to us, “Do not be afraid; from now on…”
Photo courtesy of Janet Hockman, MM.