Several years ago, I led a reflection/prayer day, and on the altar we were using, stood a candle enclosed in a large glass cylinder. What was catching my attention was the fact that the flame of the candle was being mirrored exactly on the inner surface of the glass so that from the outside one would have thought that there were two flames, not one.
However, the mirror image of the flame was ‘reversed’ i.e. it was displayed in a way that was exactly the opposite of the real flame. As the actual candle flame moved to the left then the mirror image moved to the right and vice-versa. It was as if the two flames were dancing around each other! Coming close but never joining to be the one flame.
It became an image for me of what can happen in life and indeed in our faith life too – that we often ‘dance’ close to, but don’t join with, the Other when they are inviting us to come closer. This dance might be seen in relationships, sometimes in our marriages, our friendships or even in our ministry or service to, and for, others.
While we so often desire and seek intimacy and closeness, it is also frightening to surrender in loving trust to another – even if this surrender is but the gateway to deeper relationship and intimacy. We are indeed strangely made; in our heart of hearts we seek to be ‘at one’ with another and are deeply attracted to this very reality, yet something within us resists – perhaps fuelled by a strong desire to ‘preserve’ the self! So there are times when our partner, friend or loved one is inviting us to be closer, to be the one flame together, but we are holding back from fully surrendering to all that a loving relationship can offer.
Of course, and thankfully, we do experience other moments when we overcome all fears and two hearts burn as one. We embrace the other and find the intimacy we most seek, and it is a flame that warms us and lights the pathways for our relationships and life itself.
Thus in our reading today, for me to see Peter invited to step out into the deep and to come to Jesus, is to see an instance of Jesus inviting him to be ‘at one’ in relationship. Indeed it is the very thing that Peter seeks “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Yet at the same moment, we see Peter wrestling with and being overcome by his natural fears …. “Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened and began to sink…”
Perhaps this is the lesson for us in today’s liturgy. Like Peter let us give assent to our own desire for intimacy with Jesus.
But let us also acknowledge that to do so means we too must overcome any fears and resistance within. But here again, let us note that it is Jesus himself who helps and enables us to come to him. Like Peter we have only to ask, only to cry out “Lord, save me!” and he will help us to enter into his loving embrace to experience that which we most desire…. “Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him…”
It will be so for us.
Fr. Denis Travers, C.P., is the Provincial Superior of Holy Spirit Province, Australia.