Saturday, August 20, 2011

Beach Reading 3:"Good Harbor" by Anita Diamant

Preached Sunday August 7.....

Matthew 14:22-33

What a strange beginning to this morning’s passage from Matthew’s gospel. Jesus “immediately” sends his friends away, right after—what? We have to go back, turn a page, to see. It turns out, immediately after an enormous picnic of the kind that rivals the Spiedie Fest for attendance—5000 men, not including the women and children. So, 10,000? 15,000? Jesus and his friends have been the hosts at an enormous outdoor table, where all have been welcomed, and the sick and hurting have been healed, and all have been given bread for their journey.

And then Jesus immediately sends his friends away, to go it on their own for a while, so that he can rest, and go where he feels nearer to God. Jesus needs time to be alone to pray. So he sends his friends away. He makes them get on a boat—something they should be more or less comfortable doing, since most of them got their start as fisher-folk. And when the evening falls, Jesus is, at last, alone.

“But by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them” [Matthew 14:24].

Let’s talk about what it feels like to be battered by the waves of life, to feel that the winds are against you.

For some it might be the experience of drowning in their responsibilities—the mother of the very young child, the son of the very elderly parent. The owner of a small business struggling to stay afloat, the head of the department making the hard decisions about whom to set adrift in layoffs. For the people of Tuscaloosa, it is the memory of 190 mile per hour winds that destroyed large swaths of their city last April.

What does it feel like to be battered by the waves of life, to feel that the winds are against you? The novel Good Harbor, by Anita Diamant, answers that question through its portrayal of two women.

For Joyce, it is the rocky ground of her marriage, and the distance she feels from her increasingly irritable and independent adolescent daughter.

For Kathleen, it is the discovery that she has breast cancer, and the excruciating memory of a very young son who died.

These two women, both of them Jews but neither of them particularly religious, meet at synagogue one Friday evening, and strike up a conversation that feels like the beginning of something important. Ultimately they find in one another the good harbor that is true and deep friendship. That’s the heart of this novel: the story of a friendship, Good Harbor, also the name of a patch of beach in Gloucester, on the North Shore of Boston, MA.

I wonder: if we peel back the layers of the gospel story, might we find there the story of friendship, as well? The kind of friendship that reaches out a hand to grab us when we feel like we’re drowning?

Kathleen sends Joyce away at one point. She stops answering the phone, she stops returning calls. She is undergoing a course of radiation treatments, which are giving her panic attacks. She is also haunted by terrible memories of twenty five years earlier, the accidental death of her three-year-old son. Much as she cares for Joyce, there comes a period when Kathleen believes she needs to be alone to deal with those battering waves.

And Jesus’ friends in the boat, being battered by the waves, how are they faring? Not well. The Sea of Galilee isn’t very big, but its storms are notoriously deadly. Jesus’ friends long for the reassurance of his presence, and finally, sometime between three and six in the morning, they experience it. Jesus comes toward them, walking on the wind-battered waves.

If we can step back from the miraculous nature of that moment in the story, I wonder what we would find there? An image, perhaps, for the way in which friendship helps us to navigate the storms and shoals of life?

At another point in Good Harbor, Kathleen takes Joyce to climb Salt Island, a modest though challenging hill that can only be reached after the appearance of a sandbar. The author writes,

The deserted sandbar was flat, hard-packed and cool under their feet. “It’s like a magic highway,” Kathleen said, “It appears and disappears. Brigadoon.”

“Mont-Saint-Michel—minus the castle,” said Joyce. “And it’s pretty close to walking on water.”

“Or parting the seas.”

“With a hint of danger, don’t you think? The outside chance of getting stranded, like Robinson Crusoe.”

“Well, within sight of a snack bar,” Kathleen said, pointing at the weather-beaten shack onshore.

Their laughter carried over the water.[i]

The climbing of Salt Island gives the friends a multi-faceted vista: the rocks and crags and scrub pines through which they’ve climbed, the beach with its walkers and wanderers below, a mansion that dominates the shoreline, and the view straight out to the sea, the cerulean and ever-changing ocean depths.

A good friendship gives us a multi-faceted view. It allows us to see things both up close, in detail, and also with the perspective that can come with the right amount of distance. It can be, a little, like walking on water. It’s not that the shoals and storms are not there, the billows and the waves that flow over us. But with a friend we feel that we can rise above them. There is that hand, reaching out to grab us as we sink. We lift one another, we raise each other up. There, we can take in the view.

When Jesus sends his friends away, they are faced with the problem of figuring out how to live without his daily, hourly reassuring presence. So are we. One of the ways we do so is by learning to recognize his presence in the good harbor offered by those around us. What if our friendships afforded us an opportunity to discover anew the power of Jesus’ promise to always be Immanuel, God-With-Us? I want to share again a poem I have shared with you before, by Teresa of Avila.

Christ has no body but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,

Yours are the eyes with which he looks

Compassion on this world,

Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,

Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.

Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,

Yours are the eyes, you are his body.

Christ has no body now but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,

Yours are the eyes with which he looks

Compassion on this world.

Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

Jesus has no body, no hands on earth except these hands, these bodies we have been given. Bodies that become weak and frail and get cancer, and hands that hold and soothe and heal. Bodies that climb hills and mountains, and hands that massage the tired muscles later. Bodies that cower under doorjambs when the tornado is coming, and hands that reach out with food and medicine and hammer and nails to do the work of repair.

Kathleen and Joyce are God-With-Us for one another, offering one another the good harbor of their friendship. Five people from this community will be God-With-Us for the people of Tuscaloosa. We all have opportunities to be God-With-Us for one another each and every day. But first, we will let Jesus and his friends host us at this small indoor table, where all are welcome, and the sick and hurting can find healing, and we will all be given bread for the journey. Thanks be to God. Amen.

[i] Anita Diamant, Good Harbor (New York: Scribner, 2001), 139.

1 comment:

Terri said...

I loved that book! I like every book by Diamont that I've read! good sermon, too.