I first recall singing a song from Scotland’s Iona Community, Don’t be afraid in the early 1980s. It’s short text continues to speak to me:
Don’t be afraid, my love is stronger,
My love is stronger than your fear.
Don’t be afraid, my love is stronger,
And I have promised to be always near.
In the struggle surrounding fear, love conquers, but often for me the fear remains and is still toxic and real. Then, and now, fear remains a primary if not primal emotional experience. Fight or flight; I choose flight! I want to put as much distance between myself and my fear as possible. While I have never lived in a danger zone (think Ukraine), neither have I lived through a natural disaster—a tsunami or an earthquake. In 1992 I was diagnosed with Malignant Melanoma and advised to “put my affairs in order.” Fear visited forcefully! Fortunately as treatment progressed the prognosis improved. My fears today, are less motivated by external factors; mine arise from within. Arghh.
I have lived with my own fears for much of my adult life. These have taken me through three bouts of serious depression. Beyond these intense periods however, fear still casts its dreadful shadow–fears of humiliation, error and failure, experiences of bullying and ostracization—the list seems embarrassingly long. I have always considered fear as a sign of weakness, an inability to trust in others or in God, threatening my ability to deal with the realities and challenges of life. A step further, I have been afraid of being afraid. A literal reading of John Bell’s little ditty reinforces my reaction and frustrates a more positive action.
As most days I follow posts from the Centre for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque New Mexico, I recently read these words by Cole Arthur Riley, a writer and creator of the online prayer space Black Liturgies. She views fear as a place to discover God’s compassion for us:
I’m told the most frequent command from God in the Bible is Do not fear. Some have interpreted this as an indictment on those who are afraid, as if to say fear signifies a less robust faith. This offends me. God is not criticizing us for being afraid in a world haunted by so many terrors and traumas. I hear Don’t be afraid and hope that it is not a command not to fear but rather the nurturing voice of a God drawing near to our trembling. I hear those words and imagine God in all tenderness cradling her creation against her breast.
“God—cradling her creation against her breast.” How often have we seen such images recently, pictures documenting the justifiable fear-motivated reactions of Ukrainian refugees, people of all ages driven from their homes, their livelihoods, their nation, their way of life, agonizing images approaching or in the midst of despair. Such images are typically of mothers carrying little ones, relatives and friends comforting older ones as the men must remain to fight, resiliently and remarkably effectively to stave off invaders, many who simply do not know what they are doing, or why. In Ukraine, in Syria, in the Middle East, in North American Indigenous communities, within intimate relationships in my home community in Kamloops, there is much which makes me and others afraid.
Attending a Kamloops Municipal Council meeting a few days ago, waiting for an item to arrive on the agenda, I heard the annual reports of police and community service officers. Given several years experience working with a local homeless shelter I was interested to discover how our community has fared in recent months as it responds to the needs of vulnerable persons, a community which is presently very anxious, even fearful, about a perceived rise in crime, an uncontrollable opioid-crisis, a community with more homicides than one might expect for a City of 100,000 people, a community with a staggering missing persons count of some 824 persons during 2021. From the report we hear:
The 4th Quarter showed a decline in most property crime types in Kamloops in 2021 with an overall increase of only 2% for the year. There was a notable 27% increase in “Crimes Against Persons” for the Quarter 4. This was reflected in the overall 15% increase in Crimes Against Persons for the year. The past year presented its own challenges including Fires, Floods and evacuees from many areas that were affected. This placed a lot of pressure on the Health and Wellness of our members and staff due to the inability to take adequate vacation and breaks with their families. This continues to be one of the most concerning risks to operations for our Detachment and is closely monitored.
This data provides a realistic assessment of how community members–travellers, guests, those acting with criminal intent, organized crime, those struggling at the margins of life and love interact with civic structures, the environment, with law makers, with enforcers and encouragers–how each of these interact with each other, including me. This particular narrative is told and re-told, sometimes accurately though often in an exaggerated or distorted fashion, between friends and neighbours, through media of all sorts of formal and informal means. We all try to figure out what’s happening in our community, who is doing what and with whom, and what events or initiatives deserve our attention and support and what needs to diminish if not totally disappear.
Our discovery of fear, and it’s opposite–a loving embrace (remember the nurturing mother above)–will significantly influence our experience of wellness, joy and peace. Fear can be our friend if managed well; fear can indicate areas of our common and individual life worthy of repair or adjustment. The Reflection continues: I believe fear has the holy potential to draw out awe in us. To lead us into deeper patterns of protection and trust. To mold us into people engaged in the unknown, capable of making mystery of it instead of terror.
As we pray for others, those near and those far removed from our daily round, may we and all creation experience less terror. May peace come in conversation and shared adventure with both friend and stranger. Let us in fact dare to be afraid as much of life is scary. At the same time let us not run from our fears but find a way through . . . or if necessary find a way around our fear. May threatening fear be transformed into something wonderful, mysterious and awe-inspiring, for us, and for all.
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