Ruth Woodliff-Stanley

Year A

Wednesday in Holy Week

Troubled Waters

April 8, 2020

Revised Common Lectionary

Hi Everyone,

Welcome to Paintbox. If you're new to the site, you can learn more by visiting the about page. Each week you'll find links to interdisciplinary lessons followed by my collecting question for the week and then my personal reflection.

As I read the gospel for Holy Wednesday, where Jesus is at table with his friends sharing the Passover meal, I’m noticing for the first time the level of fear that seems to permeate their conversation, and I’m imagining what the disciples were likely experiencing in their bodies.

Below, you can find this week's interdisciplinary lesson followed by my collect and reflection.



Arts & Architecture

The Seed Market

Jelaluddin Rumi, Translated by Coleman Barks and Joan Moyne

Poem by 13th century poet, Jelaluddin Rumi.

Focus your attention on what happens to the waterbead.

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How are you befriending your fear in these days?


At supper with his friends, Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, "Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me." The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. –John 13:21-22

While sharing the Passover meal with his friends, Jesus was troubled in spirit, John tells us in today’s gospel reading. The verb used to describe Jesus’ state means to be disconcerted, afraid, filled with grief or anxiety. It is sometimes likened to troubled waters.

None of us has ever before listened to the readings of Holy Week from the vantage point of a pandemic. So, we are seeing and hearing new things. This is the first time I’ve realized how much fear permeates the meal Jesus shares with his friends at Passover. I’ve always pictured this scene as a kind of intimate time, marred only by this one small moment when Jesus gives us a foreshadowing of Judas’ betrayal. In other words, I’ve seen it through rose colored glasses.

Listening to it now, against our present backdrop, I hear the fear and tension. If during any meal around our dining room table, a member of our family were to say, “One of you will betray me,” I don’t think I would be feeling warm and intimate towards anyone. I would be panicked and frightened. I imagine the disciples felt a longing for things to be as they were and a new, unwelcomed tightness in their chests and stomachs. Troubled waters.

Not so different from what we feel now. A longing for things to be as they were. A new, unwelcomed tightness in our chests and stomachs. Troubled waters.

None of us wants this experience. This pall that shrouds our land. None of us wants any of it. The suffering, the dying, the fear and uncertainty. Give us calm waters, smooth sailing.

This week, I was reading a book in which the author quotes a portion of the poem from Rumi in our arts and architecture lesson. I paid particular attention to this portion:

“Now, your waterbead lets go

and drops into the ocean,

where it came from.

It no longer has the form it had,

but it’s still water.

The essence is the same.” –from Rumi, “The Seed Market,” translated by Coleman Barks and Joan Moyne

It reminded me of one of the last scenes from the recently concluded TV series, The Good Place, in which Eleanor asks Chidi to offer her some comforting words before he goes. He describes how in Buddhism there is this awareness that when a wave crests and falls back into the ocean, it does not cease to exist but merely returns to its origin, where it came from and where it’s supposed to be.

There is a reality bigger than this pandemic, bigger even than death, a truth beneath these troubled waters disturbing our spirits. And when we let go, or when we fall from what we imagined was our only respite, we return to calm waters. There is no “away” from God. No place where we cannot be found and returned to our essence. Yet, while that is the deepest truth, it is not one we can readily access when we are in the stormy waters, feeling trouble all around us.

One reason Holy Week has power in our lives is that we do not rush the story. Each day has its place, reflecting an aspect of our reality. We do not skip parts of the story. We do not try to gloss over any of it or make it better. We experience it.

Today, we tell the part of the story that is our fear. The part about our tight chests and stomachs. The part where we experience troubled waters.

We can point to a bigger perspective, one where we understand that, ultimately, the troubled and the calm waters are part of one infinite ocean. They coexist. But that larger understanding does not change the real experience of the trouble. We must learn, while it is with us at table, demanding our attention, to befriend our fear.

And we must learn, now as always, to lean into the both-and.