ColumnsNaming Grace

Stop the spiral

“Mom, you sure do spiral. One moment you’re flying high and then one bit of unpleasant news and you spiral down.” She stopped me in my tracks. It’s true. We were excited about creating welcome bags for a family event scheduled in September. But the minute she mentioned a guest sending her regrets because of concerns about coronavirus, I spiraled. “No one will attend. We may as well forget the bags. Maybe we should all stay home.” Laura whipped me back to reality, “Mom, no. We need to make a few adjustments, but a cancellation does not warrant we all stay home.” Spiraling. In my little mind, I go from excitement to dread in moments. I plunge from enthusiasm to devastation in seconds. I plummet from faith to fear in milliseconds.

Today’s Gospel features Peter, perhaps the most famous “spiraler” of all, as he courageously walks on water one moment and then sinks in fear the next. As Barbara Brown Taylor writes in, The Seeds of Heaven: Sermons on the Gospel of Matthew: “[Peter] is full of faith one minute and full of doubt the next, riding high on his confidence in Jesus one moment and lying in the dirt the next. … What you see is what you get with him: an impetuous, outspoken man who both loves Jesus and lets him down, …” (p 57).

Isn’t this true of each of us? Don’t we both love Jesus and let him down — day by day? Haven’t we placed our trust in Jesus and then doubted the minute waves crash over us? Haven’t we cried out with the disciples, “Where are you, Jesus? Can’t you see I’m drowning here?” Couldn’t Jesus accuse each of us of having “little faith”? Though Jesus commands the seas, we often spiral in fear, shiver in doubt, and huddle in the boat’s hull the moment ominous clouds appear.

Christ stops the spiraling by calling us to faith, “Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid.”

When storms brew from coronavirus to social unrest, only Jesus calms trembling hearts. God is not in the wind of talking heads on television. God is not in the earthquake of crumbling structures, nor in the fire of violence on the streets. But God’s voice whispers in the silence of prayer. This is where God is. That is our only hope for calm in the chaos when we proclaim Jesus as “the Son of God.”

As parents and grandparents, we name grace — God’s calming presence — when our children witness us listening to the whisper of the Spirit. We model discipleship by stepping out of our comfort zones to do the will of God by working for peace and justice. And when fearful, we call on the name of Jesus to save us instead of spiraling out of control.

Once again, I was tempted to spiral. I had invited some women in our neighborhood to join a Bible study. After a few days, only a few showed interest. And doubt crept in: “No one will join. We may as well cancel. I hate coronavirus.” But I took a deep breath and called on the name of Jesus. And those who joined were perfect! When tempted to spiral in these messy, uncertain, crazy times, we remain calm by turning to Jesus, who stretches out his hand to stop the spiral and save us. Now, that’s good news!

How will you teach your children to have faith?

Mary Pedersen D. Min. reflects on the Gospel through the lens of parents/grandparents. She may be reached at