I Walked on Water (it was frozen)

Footprints on Lake Superior
There's the photographic evidence: I walked on water! Purists among us will draw attention to the frozen quality of the water, I suppose, but that will not extinguish the thrill I felt snowshoeing on Lake Superior this weekend.

Houghton, MI in the UP
I drove six hours Friday from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Houghton, Michigan, in the Upper Peninsula. My hosts were Fr. Ben Hasse of St. Albert the Great Campus Ministry and Sr. Ellen Enright of St. Anne Church. In between presentations for the Apostleship of Prayer, I was treated to a sunrise snowshoe excursion led by the inimitable Fr. Ben. Yes, sunrise. Not really a morning person myself, I was astonished to see almost a dozen college students arrive at 7am to join in the frozen fun. The digital display at the local bank read -15 (that's 15 degrees BELOW ZERO) as we strapped on our showshoes and crunched our way down to the lake.

It was stunning.
Hello, Morning!
Plenty of interesting things happened:

  • The sun rose
  • I fell down a lot
  • Men's beards grew icicles
  • A woman's perfectly dry hair managed, somehow, to freeze
  • We discovered the complex and not altogether favorable taste of banana-flavored hot cocoa mix
  • Someone found a pressure crack and fell through the ice

James Bond: Skyfall
Unexperienced as I am with walking on frozen lakes, James Bond movies have been my primary information source. Naturally, I was horrified when I looked over and saw my companion's arms reaching out of the water to grab onto the icy surface.

Thanks be to God, two other men were close by, stabilized themselves, and pulled him out to safety. Yoopers (the fearless inhabitants of the Upper Peninsula) know their stuff. One person had brought a rope, just in case. The man who fell through the ice had brought an entire change of clothes, including an extra pair of boots, just in case. Do you know what I usually have with me, just in case? Nothing. Wait, sometimes a gently used Kleenex.

Our friend's very calm rescue was a miracle. Another (far less dramatic) miracle was that I was even there to see it--I don't easily embrace mornings or below-zero temperatures, so my welcoming the sunrise is remarkable. Why did I get out of bed to go snowshoeing? Because I was invited. One person, a brave and joyful person, asked me to join him and some of his companions. They even provided the snowshoes and some extra winter gear. This group of snowshoers encouraged me to do something I would likely not have done otherwise and to behold something beautiful: the rising sun over a (mostly) frozen lake.

Scurrying back to the cars to get dry clothes on our friend-cicle, I reflected on the importance of community. I don't care how worn-out it sounds; it really does "take a village" to raise a child, to become a full human person. My new UP community took to heart 1 Thessalonians 5:11, "encourage one another and build one another up." Even in small ways, they welcomed me, challenged me, and expanded my horizon (literally--do you see how infinite that skyline seems?).

Sometimes I want to be an "efficiency expert," like Frank and Lillian Gilbreth in Cheaper By the Dozen. I want to eliminate all superfluity and distraction. I want everything to work correctly, right now. But the beautiful messiness of living in community reveals the recklessness of pure efficiency. Watching the sunrise is not terribly useful, but it expands the heart. Shutting off the computer to spend time reading with a little child might not clear out the email inbox, but it strengthens a relationship. Choosing to interact with a socially awkward person at a gathering might be bad news for social ambition, but it teaches empathy.

Jesus had it within his power to be ruthlessly efficient. One man even chided Jesus about that: “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us” (Luke 23:39). Jesus could have saved himself and us with a mighty display of divine power. Instead, he hung out for three years with a motley group of locals. He went from town to town, working miracles where he could, talking to individuals and to groups. Jesus, through whom all things come into being, relied largely on the companionship of twelve guys to get his message out. The day he died, just one of the twelve remained at the cross. Oh, and his mom--his mom was there too. As for the others, "all his acquaintances stood at a distance, including the women who had followed him from Galilee and saw these events" (Luke 23:49). Jesus' death gave birth to the Church, with two people in the pews. After the Resurrection, Jesus found his fearful friends locked in a room. Nevertheless, he entrusted his Church to them.

Jesus shows us a model not of efficiency, but of community, marked by freedom and love. St. Claude La Colombière, whose February 15th feast day fell on this past Saturday (my snowshoe day), was filled with love of Jesus. He found himself wanting to tell everyone about the Heart of Jesus, and felt frustrated that most of his conversations were just private one-on-one interactions. "Why can't I be everywhere, dear God, and make it known that you are waiting for your servants and friends!" But we can't be everywhere. We can only be in the place God puts us each moment.

Jesus did walk on (non-frozen) water, and he did speak to teeming crowds at times, but he started his Church quietly, on a shockingly small scale, affirming the beauty of small, daily interactions with others. Sometimes I want grand and glorious displays of power that compel the world to believe in the saving power of Jesus. But then I pay attention to Jesus, and I hear him invite us to intimacy and freedom: "Come and see."

Let's go together.