Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Tempest Rain 1899

Levitan created this amazing painting in 1899, the year before his death. He had been told by his doctors a few years earlier that his heart would not last much longer. Here, a great tree-bending storm is rolling in over a clearing where men have been stacking firewood. Perhaps they have run for cover as the sky darkens and the wind picks up. Can you feel it?

The Christian might think of the synoptic Gospel accounts of Jesus calming the tempestuous sea. Here is St. Mark's telling:

With the coming of evening that same day, he said to them, 'Let us cross over to the other side.' And leaving the crowd behind they took him, just as he was, in the boat; and there were other boats with him. Then it began to blow a great gale and the waves were breaking into the boat so that it was almost swamped. But he was in the stern, his head on the cushion, asleep. They woke him and said to him, 'Master, do you not care? We are lost!' And he woke up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, 'Quiet now! Be calm!' And the wind dropped, and there followed a great calm. Then he said to them, 'Why are you so frightened? Have you still no faith?' They were overcome with awe and said to one another, 'Who can this be? Even the wind and sea obey him.'  Mark 4:35-41

It's dawned on me, we never address the question Jesus raises in this boat: "Why are you so frightened?" We often think Jesus is being stern when asking questions like this. Could he have been smiling or laughing a little at our worrying so much? Maybe the disciples were afraid of losing the fishing boat they needed for their livelihood or afraid the sea monsters would get them and then their wives would have no support and they'd lose the house and, and, and...

"Why are you so frightened?" Maybe we don't allude to the question because it unnerves us.  Fear is one of the four emotions: happy, sad, angry, afraid.  We spend a lot of our life being afraid. Some of the fears are laughably silly; others quite serious. 

I'm afraid of losing my money
afraid I won't have enough for my retirement -
  the TV commercial says I'll need a million dollars
afraid of losing control
  of my temper
  of my teenage kids
afraid of bad weather
  black ice
  heavy snow
  thunderstorms and
afraid of other drivers who might be on drugs
afraid of losing sobriety
afraid of the E.coli in the bag of lettuce
afraid of being ripped off by the contractor
afraid of being lied to
afraid of failing
  or falling
afraid of having to admit a mistake
afraid of the loss of my health
afraid of the loss of a loved one
afraid I'll lose the job
afraid I'll lose my hair
  good looks
  sex appeal
afraid of the sun's rays
afraid the surgery won't work
afraid of losing the best parking space
afraid of the people who are supposed to be leading us
afraid of other countries
afraid of terrorists
afraid of war
afraid if the electric goes out I'll lose what's in the freezer
afraid these meds won't work "forever"
afraid of losing my mind


I'm thinking three things: 1) Answering Jesus' question truthfully, I have to admit I am a very earthbound person. My affections and energies are essentially tied up with this life on earth. 2) Jesus must know something I don't know - how a person can live, freed of so much earthbound fear. 3) The AA saying comes to mind: Fear is the darkroom where negatives are developed.

Can I imagine standing out in Levitan's Tempest looking up at the sky with arms outstretched and smiling? Someone might say, "You're nuts." Maybe. But Jesus' question remains.

And if I take Jesus seriously then I have to answer honestly, trying to discover his secret for living in inner freedom. AA also says: "Let go and let God." Anyone who follows the Twelve Steps will likely acknowledge how difficult it can be to live this way. That's why I suggest Jesus was smiling (not frowning) when he asked the disciples "What are you afraid of?" He's understanding, not judging.

Here's a start: the only thing I really need to be afraid of is whatever could take me away from God.


  1. Why is it that out of the four emotions, only one of them is positive? I like to think that we spend more time in happy, than in angry, afraid and sad. The thought that Jesus might even be laughing as he asked them why they were afraid makes me smile. Imagining Jesus laughing with his friends gives another human aspect.

    1. That's right: four human emotions, three are negative. Oh my!

  2. Some fears are real. If I lose my job, how will I pay my bills and feed my family. If I get sick, how will I work? I can't help but have some fear of these things. Not overwhelming, but still real. I can trust that God will provide, but money won't appear from thin air. Just as when a storm comes, we seek shelter for fear of being struck by light or that a tree branch may fall. Self preservation is something that God expects from us.

  3. Well, like I said, some of our fears are silly and some very serious. Some people don't trust God at all and some others trust God "recklessly." I suppose we all have to be honest and see where we fall on the scale. What are we to make of someone like St. Benedict Joseph Labre? What does he have to say to us in our Walmart world?

  4. Maryann McPartlandApril 13, 2017 at 1:46 PM

    Yes Father we must find our own position on the scale. I fear being alone. As we get on in years the end becomes closer than our beginning. My husband's health isn't the best and I fear that I will be left alone. But I trust in God that I won't shut down and through the help and kindness of my friends, I will find new way to live. It is about having faith that God will give us what we can manage and we will help ourselves along the way so that we are ready when strength is needed. Until that time, I pray and grow in my relationship with God. I look at this picture and think not that the workers ran in fear, but that they sought shelter from the storm so that they could go out, unscathed, to continue on later. Thank you for all your wisdom and insights. They are part of my faith journey. Happy Easter to you and your family Father Stephen.

  5. The thing I like most about the comments that come in after any given post is that it gives us a chance to nuance things. Thanks! Maybe it was Chesterton who said St. Francis was the only person who ever lived the Christ life utterly and fully. Even Francis'descendents thought his way was too much and so they started owning books and building monasteries. We do what we can do. A priest friend told me of meeting a parishioner named Vicki one morning. She was walking briskly and full of smiles. He asked, "What are you so happy about?" And she answered, "I've just given away my last nickel." She slept on a cot in the parish used clothing room. Clearly not every one can do that. Maybe the point is - can we find one or two aspects of my life that are unnecessarily fearful and anxious and see if we can't drop it. And maybe the fears we most need to drop are the fears of not being approved of, not being liked, that someone might be angry with me...Those are very real fears.

    1. Maryann McPartlandApril 13, 2017 at 6:12 PM

      Thank you for listening and taking time to add your additional thoughts. I greatly appreciate the interaction. I love your blog and have learned so much here.

  6. I love the interaction as well: that's how we grow. We!