To other shores

“He sighed from the depth of his spirit and said,
“Why does this generation seek a sign?
Amen, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.”
Then he left them, got into the boat again,
and went off to the other shore.” (Mk 8:12-13)

Jesus so often crosses from one shore to another in the gospel accounts, sometimes to leave one place behind, sometimes for solitude. This time, Jesus is disheartened by those who seek to test and to challenge him, those who are interested in an argument. So Jesus goes on to another place, to another shore.

When I think of going to “another shore,” I think of summer afternoons spent kayaking on the Charles River here in Boston. Being out on the water is so freeing, far from whatever I leave behind on dry land. My thoughts are refreshed by the sight of the turtles sunning themselves, starlings flying nearby, the sight of an open sky, and trees growing alongside a shore that masks that we are rather close to the city.

There’s another dimension in what Jesus speaks of in “going to other shores” in times of distress: to let ourselves be carried along for a while. Out on the water in a kayak, I paddle, but mostly it’s the water that carries. The recognition that I have been carried all along becomes glaringly apparent when a sandbar emerges, and I’m left to do the hard work of trying to push through the kayak with the paddles—or worse, have to get out and drag it a while. Getting to another shore in our own lives often requires letting God take us there, to stop thinking that we have to do all the work ourselves, when God desires to bring us to better places of freedom.

Perhaps we can think of Jesus as at the helm of each of our boats, as one who wants to bring us to better shores, who is eager to help to steer our way there. Instead of resisting, we can let ourselves be carried. When we are faced with situations in which others are doubting, arguing, testing, or offering Pharisee-like judgments upon us, we are invited to go to new places with Jesus.

We will soon enter into Lent, in which penitential practices have to, I think, be supported by a deeper trust that it’s the Lord’s hand who guides us from whatever shore we are standing at, with its conflicts and quarrels, legalisms, or regrets, to the shores of Easter. I’ll be fasting, sacrificing, giving, and meditating on my own shortcomings, on what God still needs to transform in me. But if the penitential aspects are going to take us anywhere, there has to be a deeper trust that even in the “desert” of Lent, there are waters that carry us.  Beneath it all, God’s hand is there to bring us to new shores.