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The Boat, the Night, and the Sea

01 Oct Spiritual Formation | Comments Off on The Boat, the Night, and the Sea
The Boat, the Night, and the Sea

A Boat, Night and the Sea

I had just finished eating dinner on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Throughout the meal, our group enjoyed an absolutely stunning sunset, and now, the time had come for something I waited for my whole life, a ride across the Sea of Galilee at night.  I could hardly contain myself as I walked down the long dock to the waiting boat.  With the sun still peaking from behind Mt. Arbel on the Western horizon, we began our trip across the sea towards the other side.  Here’s the picture I took as we pulled away:

Sunset with Mt. Arbel

That amazing night in May of 2008 was extremely significant for two reasons.  One, since the time I was six years old my favorite story in the New Testament was Jesus calming the storm on the Sea.  I have always been intrigued by the story, wondering what each disciple was thinking, how warm the air felt that night, how much room was actually in the boat and how Jesus could sleep in the middle of a storm.  The second reason for my excitement was that one of my favorite paintings of all time is Rembrandt’s “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee” (1663), which depicts this same event.


I’ve found myself thinking about that night and that boat trip again recently, how my memory of that moment is so visual and vivid. This past week while reading the book The Sacred Gaze by David Morgan, I was struck by the concept that images are better understood as an integral part of “visual practice”.   Visual practice pertains to the forming of relations among a particular culture and how that culture relates to a broader understanding of the world. More specifically, I realized that Rembrandt’s painting has shaped my view of scripture, and had given visual symbolism which enabled me to connect deeper with God.  These images – the sunset, the painting – were part of what God was using in my life to reinforce and remind me about His presence in my life.

Communicate With the Divine

Have you ever had a painting capture your soul? It’s not every day that I go walking through an art museum, but when I do, every now and then a painting arrests my attention and draws me in. As I observe Rembrandt’s painting, my senses are drawn into the scene.  My experience rolls like the waves beginning with fear, doubt, worry, conviction, and shame, but eventually and finally abiding faith.  My understanding of God has been increased, and this painting that was two dimensional on a canvas now becomes three dimensional in my soul.  The use of my visual senses, which God created for the purpose of worship, drew me to a place where, I asked myself the question, “Would I fear the storm or would I trust with deep faith?”

Imagine Community

Visual creations have a powerful impact on all of us. They can allow us to be transported to another time and place.  This painting of the storm and the photo of the sunset can draw me back to a place where I connect with the disciples. It doesn’t take long to realize that we are just like them:  fragile, quick to act in our own strength, always wanting to power up, not listening to what has already been promised and certainly not at peace.  These men transform from being abstract figures to brothers in the faith.

The Middle of the Sea

That night in the middle of the sea, we paused.  At this point the sun had set and darkness was upon us.  Only the distant lights of Tiberias to the West and the Golan Heights to the East could be seen against the inky blackness of the sea.  Our guide stopped the boat, turned the engine off, and we found ourselves in complete silence. It was profound as well as unnerving.

I had picked out a few New Testament passages to read and contemplate while we sat on the sea.  While reading Mt. 8:23-25, all of sudden this incredible wind picked up, the Sea which just a few seconds before looked like glass was now tossing us about.  30 seconds later, as fast as it came, the winds went away.

Visuals for You

As I share my own visuals, I wonder, “What visuals have had the same impact for you?” What visuals has God used in your life to draw you closer to Himself or remind you of “abiding faith”? How are those visual images forming you?

And on the other hand, are you using visual images with your students, providing them with opportunities to connect with God through their senses? What visuals are you introducing them to that God might use in their formation?

Rick Rhoads
Professor of Student Min at Lancaster Bible College
Rick is the Director of the Student Ministry Majors at Lancaster Bible College. He has served as an Assistant Professor in Student Ministry at LBC for the past 7 years. Over the past 18 years, he has served in various Student Ministry roles at Lebanon Valley YFC, LCBC, Calvary Bible Church, and Riverbend Community Church. Rick, his wife Naomi, and their two children Grace and Eli live East Petersburg, PA.