Learning to Walk on Water


The Stella Maris Chapel is a two mile walk from St. John’s Abbey on a winding path along the edge of Lake Sagatagan.  For much of the year, there are points along the path that you can no longer see the chapel because the foliage is so thick—green in summer, gold in the fall.  But then suddenly the chapel will reappear before you like a jewel on an island in the middle of the water and a short plank bridge crossing over to it.

What I didn’t know until last week is that there is another quicker way out to the chapel.  A half mile trek. The only thing is that it requires you to be able to walk on water.  This is a feat I have long associated with Jesus and Peter, but never with myself.  That is until last week when Lake Sagatagan so thoroughly froze over that fishing tents began to appear atop its vast surface.

I grew up with a more than healthy fear of going out onto the ice.  Frozen lakes were right up there with quick sand in the list of things we were sternly warned about as children.  Haven't you read Little Women and Little House on the Prairie?  DO NOT GO ICE SKATING ON FROZEN LAKES!  Apparently no one told the Minnesotans.  Or perhaps, they know more than a girl from Missouri. 

After just standing on the shore watching with envy for several days, I finally decided that it was time to walk across the lake to Stella Maris. I took my friend Leslie with me, because she's from California and she was the only person around more nervous about this idea than me. The first step was the most terrifying.  Well, and then the hundredth step when I turned around and saw how far back the shoreline now was.  And then two hundredth step when I realized we were really committed now.  What made it possible to keep walking was that there were footsteps in the snow that we were able to follow.  I could see that others had quite recently walked across the lake on the same path we now were, and that gave courage.  Even in the moment, I realized that this was an excellent metaphor for faith.  It’s a kind of crazy, dangerous thing to believe in God… to try to live a Christian life.  But you can also see that there are these others who’ve walked in front of you and made it to the other side, perhaps a bit chaffed by the wind, but still above the surface.

During my time at St. John’s this semester, I’ve been working doggedly on my forthcoming book—tentatively called Redeeming Power.  And, like with Redeeming Conflict and Redeeming Administration, I’ve been closing each chapter with a companion on the journey who models the quality discussed in that chapter.  In my mind these are now “People Who’ve Walked on Water Before Us.”  I’ve written about some of the classic saints – St. Benedict and St. Margaret of Scotland—but also some less familiar companions—Nicholas Black Elk, Maria Montessori, Antonio de Montesinos. Interestingly, each one has been just who I needed to walk with during that particular week of the semester.  As I head home from here (Whenever that might be.  There is a blizzard going on, in case you didn’t hear), I have the joy of feeling like I am taking these women and men with me.  And I look forward to sharing them with you when the book comes out! 

Leslie and I are happy to announce we are still alive.  A bit windblown, but still above the surface. And we wish you a blessed third week of Advent!