“At that time: Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, went up on the mountain, and sat down there.” (Matthew 15:29)
When was the last time you walked by the sea, went up on a mountain, or simply sat? All too frequently, our lives, particularly around the holidays, are spent running around in the concrete blocks that are the mall, spent under flourescent lights at the office, and stretching ourselves thin to visit with family and friends, because these are “the done things.” Our day-to-day lives whip past us in dizzying flashes of work, family obligations, and what little sleep we can get.
In today’s gospel, Jesus performs some pretty famous miracles: healing the masses that come to him and multiplying the loaves and fishes that will feed the multitude. The people are amazed at what they witness. As 21st century Catholics, we are expected to be Christ-like in our behaviors and dispositions toward others. This is in addition to being good citizens, faithful workers, protective parents, and all the other qualities that can make life so overwhelming at times. We are, without a doubt, a worrisome and worried group of folks. How can we perform all these roles and maintain our sanity? Studies have shown that more than 90% of what people worry about is actually out of their control, and yet worry persists.
If we are to be Christ-like this Advent season, let’s take a cue from Christ himself and take a little moment to ourselves. Putting today’s gospel reading in context, we know that Jesus had just been tested by the Pharisees and scribes (Matthew 15:1-9), tried to explain the spirit of the law to disciples who just weren’t understanding (Matthew 10-20), and had a fairly testy exchange with the Canaanite woman before healing her daughter (Matthew 21-28). Now that is a rough day at the office. So what does he do? Continue moving through the communities and getting worked up? No. Rather, he takes a walk by the Sea of Galilee, climbs a mountain, and sits. To be sure, there’s still healing to take place and miracles of hospitality to perform, but let’s stop and appreciate what happens in that one line of Scripture.
My own life is not without its stressors, frustrations, and testy exchanges, and I’m sure your life has its own share of these daily tribulations as well. And we, like Jesus, know that they aren’t going to go away on their own (“for there will be poor always” after all), so we must make conscious efforts to focus on the very few things that we can control, and make sure we are taking care of ourselves. For me, this involves frequent camping trips. For me, walking by a sea and climbing a mountain seem ideal. For others, maybe just the “sitting” part is a good start. Take a break. Put aside your worries; literally, take a load off. When you take time to recharge, you are not only restoring your mind, body, and spirit, but you are purifying it for dealing with whatever may come.
When you find yourself taking a rest (on top of a mountain or otherwise), you will learn in short order precisely what you have in your control. At its most basic, it’s how you direct your senses. I choose to see this (or not), smell this (or not), hear this (or not), touch this (or not), and taste this (or not). When that is the extent of your decisions, worries tend to flee, your body feels refreshed, and you get to appreciate all of God’s wonders because, after all, His scenery ain’t bad.
So in this Advent season, as you are finding yourself caught up in life’s exercise wheel and feel the need for an escape, jump out for a minute. Sit a spell. Remind yourself of what’s important, and recharge. Like Jesus, you’ll find yourself better prepared for what comes, whether that’s “great crowds” jockeying for your attention or a last-minute dinner crisis. And when you get caught up in that, just remember that afterwards, after “sending the crowds away,” Jesus got in a boat and took off (Matthew 15:39).
May this holiday season bring you peace and joy! (So that you can bring it to others!)