Print Version June 10th, 1997
Last Wednesday I made a pilgrimage. I climbed a hill called Revelation to visit the grave of Paul Monette, the author of “Borrowed Time,” a book I read last summer that moved me very deeply. Subtitled “An Aids Memoir,” it tells very honestly and with great feeling the story of the sickness and death of Monette’s lover, Roger, his “little friend” as the gravestone says. Paul Monette himself died from Aids a few years ago but not without first putting his passion, his anger, his gentleness and his bitterness into print and into speech to protest the public silence over so much suffering.
As I climbed the manicured pastures of Forest Lawns looking for his grave I knew I was looking nervously for an epiphany. Some sign, some word, some significance. But to tell the truth I was disappointed. Beside the simple elegance of Roger’s memorial Paul’s was, if anything, ornately bitter. Lying beside his lover in those sunny lawns, I had hoped that death would bring out his gentle spirit. Yet, as I sat there and gazed with them into the smoggy distance, my disappointment turned to its own bitterness at all that seems lost and broken in my own life. And I found myself accusing God from a stormy heart, “Don’t you care, don’t you care that we are suffering?”
Isn’t that something we’ve all asked when the whirlwind threatens to destroy us? Don’t we all sometimes align ourselves with Job, and with the waterlogged disciples, as we cry out “Don’t you care that we are drowning?”
And look at the answers we get: Job discovers a presence and a voice in the heart of the storm, but a voice that rebukes him to silence—”What do you know? How dare you ask?” And the disciples, themselves, are rebuked as Jesus rebukes the wind and the waves with words you’d use for a stray dog, words he uses to silence demons: “Shut up!”
As silence falls the disciples are terrified. But are they terrified of the storm and the danger to their lives, or are they terrified of him, of Jesus who stills the storm with a casual word?
Don’t we all know it? Sometimes the answer is more terrible than the question. At least until the next question—”Do you have no faith at all?”
Doesn’t he care that we are perishing? Who is this man?
The disciples are in awe. Amazed. And I don’t think it’s just because he stills the storm. I think it’s this: surrounded by storm and raging waters Jesus sleeps. He simply doesn’t notice. They are panicking, shaken, terrified but he rests on a cushion. Mark, in telling the story this way, has a message for his own panicked, persecuted community. When the trouble starts, and death seems just around the corner, and you can think of nothing else, … well … just watch Jesus sleep serenely. Jesus will not panic. Jesus will see it through calmly—and so should you. Treat it lightly. If he wants to still the storm he will. What’s a little martyrdom here or there?
This story is a call to the community—to us, I’m afraid—to make up in faith what Jesus’ first disciples lacked. To stay there in the storm no matter how strong the urge to run.
Back at the graveside, as I asked my sulky question of God, another voice slowly became insistent with it’s own bitter question. Paul Monette asking angrily, asking tenderly, “Don’t you care that we are perishing?” Not asking God … but asking me. Don’t I care?
Do I care enough to enter the storm? Do I care enough to stay there when all I want to do is quit? Do I care enough to be where Jesus is and see it through like him? Do I care enough to be his disciple?