Sailors & Faith

Heather Hanson

Yesterday was a difficult day. I attended my cousin’s funeral. Although I visited him in the hospital a few weeks ago and could see that he was very ill, it still came as a surprise. I suppose every death is, no matter how “prepared” we are. He was in good health just two months ago and died too young at 66.

As a graduate of the Annapolis Naval Academy and veteran of the Vietnam War, I always associate him with his military career. Both his parents, my great-aunt & uncle, are Navy veterans. They met and married in the service. He was proud of his Navy background — it was a huge part of his family and personal identity.

During the service, the Lutheran Pastor of his church recognized this life-long affiliation, as he knew my cousin well. He read a passage from the Bible, I believe it was St. Mark 4:37-40.

And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full. And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish? And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?

The Pastor spoke about the sea’s unpredictability — one moment calm, the next moment terrifying, as in life. Sailors needed faith that God was with them at all times. My cousin was not a “fair weather” believer. He had faith not only in day-to-day life when he attended church each Sunday, but during the times his life was in danger — when he was at war and when he suffered this recent, debilitating illness.

One of my family members told him just before he passed, “We’ll take care of your mother. She will have everything she needs.” Unable to speak, he raised his hand, acknowledging that he understood and appreciated the words. He was calm, more so than in recent days. His faith told him that God would care for his mother through our family and her large group of friends.

I relate this story because I saw the power of metaphors at work. The Pastor chose his words so well. He knew that my great-aunt, sitting in front of him, needed more than just the words “have faith.” He knew that a sea analogy would honor my cousin and comfort my great-aunt. Her ability to process the words required a narrative that represented her son and resonated specifically for her, within her Lutheran faith.

Although I haven’t identified as a Lutheran in a long time, I saw today that regardless of my beliefs, the Bible holds powerful stories that can help others navigate their life experiences. Jesus spoke in parables for a reason.

We each find meaning in different stories, but they help us manage the same difficult emotions.

Psalm 107:23-30

23 Some went out on the sea in ships;
they were merchants on the mighty waters.
24 They saw the works of the Lord,
his wonderful deeds in the deep.
25 For he spoke and stirred up a tempest
that lifted high the waves.
26 They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths;
in their peril their courage melted away.
27 They reeled and staggered like drunkards;
they were at their wits’ end.
28 Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
and he brought them out of their distress.
29 He stilled the storm to a whisper;
the waves of the sea were hushed.
30 They were glad when it grew calm,
and he guided them to their desired haven.

Photo courtesy of photographer Heather Hanson

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Fiction, My Forgotten Friend

For the past few years, I’ve treated fiction as a luxury. Reading seemed like something I would get to — when I had time to relax. Instead, I “prioritized” my reading time, focusing on self-improvement, health, social issues, environmental concerns. I thought that by tackling these problems (both internal & external) that I could settle back, without guilt, and enjoy a good book.

Instead, I recently discovered that my reading choices had converged into a monstrous cacophony of voices telling me what to do, how to be, what’s wrong with the world, why I had a hand in it and how to deal with the guilt and stress. It was a sudden realization — like when someone hits the mute button on the TV and you realize how annoying it’s been all along.  The more I read, the more I felt I should read. I’ll get to the fiction later — there’s no time to waste in fixing these problems!

And then, I stopped reading altogether. It was too much. There’s no fixing me, much less the world.

But then I remembered something – dimly, from my past. I picked up a book, pushed past my anxiety and guilt, and fell into a story. When I lifted my head a few hours later, I knew. Fiction isn’t frivolous. It’s not simply a diversion for people who don’t care about the real world. Depending upon the skill of the author and the willingness of the reader to explore, it can be a conduit for transformation in your own life. It can have tremendous power to shift your thinking and give you strength for difficult life experiences. Empathizing with a character’s loss yields far more personal insight than reading a magazine article with, say, the top 10 ways to deal with grief.

Writing this now – it seems silly. Why did I think “experts” telling me how to live in their black/white terms would get me further on life’s journey? Fiction gives me depth, complexity – and most importantly, the ability to interpret truth and meaning on my own terms through personal experience.

But don’t take my word for it… (ha, get it, Reading Rainbow…sigh)

Book Review: Kitchen Table Wisdom

Kitchen Table Wisdom – Stories that Heal

By Rachel Naomi, MD

I was introduced to this author through my classwork at the Mt Nittany Institute of Natural Health. In reading these stories, I also learned about the concept of narrative medicine, a growing body of knowledge that seeks to engage with the patient through their own stories about illness and healing.

Naomi is exceptional. Though I prefer structure and clear ideas, she made me realize the value in qualitative sources. These stories are a perfect example of why Jesus used parables to teach – they endure – and they express more than just simple facts. Stories have layers of meaning. Their complexity provides a more comprehensive sense of the person’s illness than a list of symptoms, test results, and x-rays.

I enjoyed this book from the perspective of a reader simply engaged in the short tales, but also because it opened my eyes to the significance of stories in healing.