Rembrandt’s, Storm on the Sea of Galilee: Peace, Be still. Mk 4:31-41
Rembrandt’s Painting of the Storm on the Sea of Galilee pictures the artist as one of the crew in the tossed and imperiled ship. The red-headed Rembrandt looks in fear and bewilderment at the viewer who peers at the ship from above, Jesus peacefully asleep in the bow.
The painting was stolen some twenty-five or more years ago from the Isabel Stewart Gardner Museum. In the days I went there on at least a monthly time table, the entrance was free. In the remarkable space, there’s a central garden. Its walls are faced with pink marble and the galleries are on the first three floors. Isabel and her family lived on the top floor. The garden is covered with glass and it allows for a controlled environment during Boston’s bitter winters. Thus there are always flowers growing and trees and bushes in leaf and bud. A fountain with two carved dolphins’ spills water into a pool at one end of the courtyard and benches are placed for guests to sit and be still in the usually quiet presence of running water and beauty all around any time of year.
When I go to Boston, these days, I don’t usually visit the museum. Yet when I do it is with a sense of loss and a prompt to be still, be peace. Over the years since I’ve been away my visits to the city and the nearby town of Dedham have been storm tossed. First it was the death of mystep-dad, then the struggle of my mother with early signs of dementia and efforts to keep the house so it was habitable and to pay the bills. There followed the sadness and guilt as we had to sell the house to pay the many outstanding bills and to move her to a nursing home. The loss of the family home was particularly hard on my sister who had been living there and taking care of my mother. Her death two years later from a stroke led to rifts in the family. There were also visits to my Godmother who never had children of her own and so my visits to her were a reminder that showing up is half or more of life. She took good physical, mental and spiritual care of herself. She not only attended the services in her Congregational Church, but she attended Rosary and Jewish services that visitors would bring to her nursing home.
I may not have had to return to Boston to see how the storms of life had seemed to batter so many. It made me more acutely aware at how privileged I am. I was able to go to college and find work that I loved to do. I have loving relationships and three children and two-step-children all healthy and giving back to the world. Sure the price paid for my education was dear. The benefit that would have gone to my father if he had survived WW II came to me after his death. Yet it was still privilege and white privilege at that. The women in my family had little of that.
I often tend to talk about the good memories, where there is a sense of the presence of the holy. Yet when I’m caught in these storms, I identify with Rembrandt looking at me from the painting with bewilderment and pain and fear. And a sense that I’m soon going to be over my head in a sea of troubles.
It’s those trips to Boston to visit mother, dying step-dad, god-mother and family that may actually be the real living into the nature of the divine life. I usually don’t know it at the time, but in those times of death and struggle and storm the words of Jesus to the disciples, “peace, be still” carry most meaning.
That movement into the storm, letting go of any easy peace of self- satisfaction, that I’m not going to solve anyone’s problem, and my purpose is to simply be here with these loved ones in the storm and in the stillness, that is the path and the flow of Jesus.
And to keep reminding myself that in the midst of the storm, the holy lamb of God, says to the storm, “Peace, be still”, and know the waves will subside and the sea becalmed and the stars of night will appear. And in their time the storms will reveal their meaning.