Daily office commentary, Mark 4:35-38; calmness of mind in stressful situations

35-38 Late that day he said to them, “Let’s go across to the other side.” They took him in the boat as he was. Other boats came along. A huge storm came up. Waves poured into the boat, threatening to sink it. And Jesus was in the stern, head on a pillow, sleeping! They roused him, saying, “Teacher, is it nothing to you that we’re going down?”

39-40 Awake now, he told the wind to pipe down and said to the sea, “Quiet! Settle down!” The wind ran out of breath; the sea became smooth as glass. Jesus reprimanded the disciples: “Why are you such cowards? Don’t you have any faith at all?”

41 They were in absolute awe, staggered. “Who is this, anyway?” they asked. “Wind and sea at his beck and call!”

Mark 4:35-38, The Message Bible

I of course am not the first to draw a lesson from this story about how God can help calm the metaphorical storms of our lives. Nonetheless, it was a good reminder.

Most of my life I have dealt with varying degrees of perfectionism, scrupulosity, compulsiveness, anxiety, etc. It ebbs and flows depending on the context and phase of life that I’m in.

At my high-anxiety moments, I’m sometimes like Jesus’s friends on the boat: literally freaking out about something while annoyed that others around me are responding like it’s no big deal.

I like the way Jesus’s response is translated in The Message Bible. The King James translation has a regal Jesus majestically rising and “rebuking” the storm with a powerful: “Peace! Be still!” In The Message, Jesus instead seems annoyed that he was woken up from his nap and tells the wind to “pipe down!”

What stands out to me here is how calm Jesus seems to be, even to the point of being (what I infer to be) slightly annoyed with his friends for freaking out about the storm. Not that he was denying the reality of the storm or the harm it could potentially do. Rather, he maintained calmness and could reason even in a stressful situation.

To use psychology terms, he was able to suppress his amygdala anxiety threat response which allowed his prefrontal cortex to stay online and deal with the situation with all his “thinking cylinders” firing.

Like Jesus’s friends, I also am sometimes in awe of people who are naturally calm and chill (“Who is this, anyways?”). Like them, I struggle to deal well with stressful situations of chaos and threat. This is something that is a daily effort for me. Through a combination of a predictable daily routine, exercise, time for contemplative prayer and lectio divino (as well as a dose of anti-anxiety medication!), I’m able to keep my “lizard brain” calm so that my rational, calm, prefrontal cortex is able to be in charge… most of the time.

See also:

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Harvard neuroscientist: Meditation not only reduces stress, here’s how it changes your brain” by Brigid Schulte

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