Early in my poetry-writing days, I spent a lot of time writing about the apostle Peter. I identify strongly with this impetuous, stubborn follower of Christ who had a special talent for putting his foot in his mouth, biting off more than he could chew, forgetting things he had learned, and otherwise stumbling his way through a life of faith and service.
Recently, I was inspired to consider one of Peter’s interactions with Jesus from Jesus’ perspective (or as close to Jesus’ perspective as I could get, anyway). During a Saturday morning mass at Camp Miller, one of our leaders guided us through a meditation focused on Peter’s water-walking misadventure (see Matthew 14:22-36).
I thought about how the young men at the camp could be described as at-risk for sinking in stormy waters, and about how desperately I wanted to help them keep their heads above the surface, and about how inadequate I felt to do that. An hour or so later, after some fellowship time that I thought might or might not have been “useful” to the guys, one of them stopped me on his way out to give me a hug and find out when I next planned to visit.
While I still feel a lot more like Peter than like Jesus, it was good to be reminded that the simple presence of someone who cares matters to someone who is struggling—and that while I do in fact lack the capacity to pull these young people from the waters that seek to swallow them, I can at least hold their hands for a moment and assure them that there is One whose grip is much stronger than mine.
I visualize the grip
of the carpenter’s son:
strong, sure, yet infinitely gentle
as he grabbed hold of Peter’s
and hoisted his drowning friend
How I long to possess a hand like his!
But my arm trembles and strains
as I strive to maintain my hold
on youthful fingers
that I fear are not completely committed
to the clasp.
And why should they be,
I interrogate myself,
when the rushing winds that terrify me so
that whip the waves around us
into such a treacherous frenzy
carry on their breath a siren’s song—
a seductive strain
whose lyrics of love and loyalty,
set to the harmonies of home,
beckon with a power
I cannot begin to match?
Then, just as it seems I will lose my grasp entirely,
consigning us both to a watery end,
earnest eyes meet mine
and a grip of steel tightens around my wrist
as a soft, incongruous voice
entreats me to hold on
for just a little while longer.