The modest Jordan feeds the Sea of Galilee, which is the lowest freshwater lake on earth. The site is also one of the first human settlements in the world. On our boat ride I felt that there is something we can call the spirit of place. There is a spirit of the Sea of Galilee, as there is a spirit of Bonnevaux, some energy and presence found intensely in certain places that make them feel long-familiar when you visit them for the first time.
It was here that Jesus walked on the water, saved Peter from drowning in his doubt and here that he cooked a fish breakfast for his friends after the Resurrection. Early morning, out in the boat in the middle of the lake we turned off the engine, read the scriptures referring to the lake and then sat in a large silent presence.
When Jesus calmed the storm here, he was woken up by his terrified companions who couldn’t believe how he could be asleep in such a tempest. He rebuked them for their lack of trust. In the peace of the Sea of Galilee, as in the silence of the desert, our usual endless questioning and the mind’s restless demand for certainty and reassurance are stilled for a while. In certain times of meditation, too, we can enter a space of deep silence and stillness, free from thought, only vaguely aware that thoughts are chattering off stage, behind the curtain. We could turn our attention to this mental noise, but why should we? We will be back there soon enough.
These times we might call ‘good meditations’. But in the big picture, they are no better than the times of turbulence or struggle that we call the ‘bad’ or ‘hard’ ones. The Resurrection peace we seek and yearn for and can taste is different from both. It underlies both and contains both. This is the peace that is not shaken even when storms hit us in life or inner turbulence suddenly arises as an unexpected phase of our inner work.
The more familiar we become with this peace that we cannot understand, the more free we become from depending on ‘good’ meditations and fearing ‘hard’ ones. This freedom allowed Jesus to move through turbulence, rejection and finally of affliction and violence with the kind of detachment that does not isolate us in a bubble of self-sufficiency but strengthens our solitude in deeper relationship to others. In his case this unique identity made him present to all others, from the earliest human settlers on the shore of the lake, millennia before, to his friends and disciples with whom he walked from Galilee to Judaea.
In the peace of non-duality we are compassionately present to all. Out of his equanimity Jesus recognised the source of the temptations that he was prey to after his forty days in the desert. When we are awake to the universal Self it is not so difficult to face down the voice of the ego – as we see in todays Gospel (Matthew 4:1-11)