Last year at this time I wrote about gratitude in the abundance of my garden in autumn. While vegetable gardens still produce bountifully, this year the world is dealing with a very different kind of harvest. Our fruiting crops are fear, anxiety, grief, and even despair. These spread like weeds, and their tiny seeds float lightly through the air we breathe like deadly aerosols. Just like the virus we face, the seeds of fear can multiply and take us over.
When I talk with friends, I hear the fear. “I am afraid for myself and my family. How will we get through the winter? Will we be safe from Covid19? Will I have a job? Will my children ever go back to school?” Or perhaps it’s “I’m afraid for my country–so much turmoil and injustice and anger, and will the vote be fair? And now RBG has died.” Sometimes I hear, “The climate is in chaos, and is it too late? I’m afraid for the world’s survival.”
Rumi wrote of “the tangle of fear-thinking.” Such a tangle is a sticky web from which we struggle helplessly to free ourselves. The more we listen or read the news, the more those web-strands immobilize us.
I remember holding my young children in my arms when they woke frightened in the night. My arms and voice reassured, “Don’t be afraid; it will be all right. You’re safe.” That doesn’t work any more. I still want to offer the comfort of “it will be all right” but I won’t. Real and frightening events and possibilities are around us. We are anxious, grief-filled, despairing, and sometimes simply tired.
I have no security to offer today. I do not, however, believe we are powerless. We are not powerless in dealing with our fears, and we are not powerless in the world. When the psalmist wrote “under His wings you will find refuge” (Ps.91), he was reminding us of a more sure protection than Mommy’s arms. He was inviting us into the shelter of divine Love when we are frightened. From that shelter comes our help, our strength, and our courage (Ps. 121).
When someone said to my friend Marc “I am afraid,” Marc had an unusual reply. “Hi,” he said, “I am Marc.” Afraid was not his name, not his identity. You and I are not our fear. We have fear or anxiety that we can hold before us and examine. I can say to my fear, “Yes, there you are. You are real, and there are reasons for your presence here. But you may not take over and prevent me from thinking or acting.”
It may be intimidating to look at our fears and anxieties, but it is a first step in freeing ourselves from the web of panic and powerlessness. Fear limits our vision. In the midst of seemingly hopeless situations, there is no easy assurance, but there is more persistent strength and courage than fear permits us to see. We need to live from the deep place within us where God is, where we can draw strength and courage from the Spirit, even if we are not hopeful.
I have two questions for myself and for you:
1. Where can we find food for our spirits that will sustain us during this time? What habits of living, what spiritual practices help us to live grounded in God, bringing us to the shelter of God’s wings? I posted “Spiritual Practices in a Pandemic” several months ago. Such practices and others nurture us and strengthen us to live in love.
2. What is ours to do in this time, our witness to love in a pain-filled world? Perhaps, as Mother Teresa said, it is to do “small things with great love.” There are many small things to do, from listening to another with a tender heart to donating to an organization that helps people in need. Perhaps you are called to join others in creating change. You might feel a nudge to something very specific, like my friend who signed up to work the polls or another friend who began delivering Meals on Wheels.
We are all much more than our fears. We all have capacity to be light in a frightened world. Many years ago, the iconic folk group, Peter, Paul, and Mary sang “Don’t let the light go out; it’s been shining for so many years” (Peter Yarrow’s “Light One Candle”). As long as we live beyond our fears, are sustained by the Spirit, and choose to love, it will shine on.