For a moment my throat froze in terror, then I cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately He was there, catching me, holding me, lifting me up, and a small, crazy part of my mind marvelled that He should have such strength while standing on the water. I am not a learned man, but even as a boy, working in my father’s fishing boat, it had not taken me long to learn that I had little strength to drag in the nets if I did not firmly brace my body against the boat first. But Jesus never seemed to be bound by the ordinary logic of life that constrained the rest of us.
It made no sense that that should be the detail that bothered me. The whole situation was so enormously impossible. That a man should walk on water as though it were the solid earth beneath his feet, as though it were the sensible normal way to take a quick shortcut, that is an impossibility. That a man should calmly walk across the roiling, wind tossed waves as though they were the meadow grasses, is beyond impossible. That I, sinner, blasphemer and fool, should for some few seconds do likewise is an event that has no place in my understanding. And yet .. it happened .. and somehow my understanding of the universe must change to fit the facts.
Earlier the same day, we had seen Him feed 5,000. Another miracle. It is odd how blasé one can get about wonders and marvels. Five little loaves, two fish, and a multitude of people fed. Before we’d even had time to wonder what that meant (something to do with the manna in the wilderness perhaps?) He’d sent us off into the boat to go ahead of Him to the other side. By then we were too dazed, dazzled and totally exhausted to even ask how He was going to catch up with us. Without a boat it’s a very long walk around the edge of the Sea of Galilee...
It never occurred to us that He would take a more direct route. We should have known by now; our expectations are almost a challenge to Him to do the unexpected, the utterly unthinkable. It was about the fourth watch of the night when we saw that pale figure, luminous in the moonlight, walking on top of the waves. Of course we had no idea what was happening – the possibility of such a shortcut didn’t exist in even our wildest imagination. Instead, we were overwhelmed by crazy fears, ghosts and suchlike, as though being with Jesus had opened our minds to the possibilities of the supernatural, but not had yet grounded our hearts and imaginations in the certainty of the goodness of God. No wonder our lack of faith is sometimes painful for Him.
Of course, seeing our fear, He called out in reassurance. It is what happened next that I cannot explain – how I asked Him to bid me to come to Him, and He called, and I came, and for a few brief moments, with only Him in view, I did the impossible and walked on the waves, until I realised the impossibility and began to sink. Oh I understand why I sank, that part is easy, normal and human. But that I, Peter bar Jonah, (fisherman, sinner, fool), for a few moments walked on the waves, walked like God, this is beyond my understanding.
But in those moments I learned something I had never thought of before. Participating in the miraculous (the true miracles of God) is not really about the spectacular, flashy things that people get excited over. They are almost incidental, completely extraneous to the real issue. When the other disciples asked me later, “so, how did it feel to walk above the waves?” I couldn’t really answer. It wasn’t really about that. When I started to focus on that, the miracle moment was over. So what was it about? In that moment, I walked with God. I stepped out of my own brokenness, and into Him. I breathed the air of Eden, I was aware of the love that completely enveloped me, love that upholds every particle of the world and holds it in being.
I slipped and fell, I could not stay in that place. But to have been there is a promise that one day, through Jesus, the change will be forever. Then we will not need the sun or moon, for He Himself will be our abiding light, and we will fully know that we are loved. And we will never fall out of the knowledge of that love again.