Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Heavy Weight of Fear

"Walking the Way Together"
-Outside the Desert Retreat House -

All the recent talk about “fury, fire and nuclear war” with North Korea has put many people “on edge” over the past few days. I was especially struck by one particular comment I read on Facebook yesterday: “Nuclear war? Now we all have one more big thing to be afraid of every day – one more fear placed on my table. I wonder how long it will take for the table to crack?”

I’ve been thinking about this and wonder if that Facebook comment might indeed be very emblematic of life in contemporary society nowadays - a society where an underlying sense of fear seems to permeate so much of our common life. We are fearful of the next terrorist attack, the next backpack that turns out to be a bomb, and now the “sum of all fears,” a nuclear war with fire, flame and fury unleashed upon the world.  It is indeed like a heavy weight placed upon the table of life, leaving many of us “constantly on edge”, always on the lookout for the next piece of bad news, wondering when the table might collapse under all that heavy weight. This certainly drains the “joy” out of living every day and robs us of a deeper peace. 

I think about something Buddhist teacher and monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, once said about this constant presence of underlying fear that so eats away at so many of us.

We are always running, running, running,
Even in our sleep we are running.
We run because we are trying to escape from our fear.

As reflect on this wisdom, it makes me wonder if this may help explain why so many people nowadays always seem so busy - busy at work or school, busy at home, even busy on a summer vacation, always on the run. Are people afraid to be fully present in the moment because who knows what the moment might bring - an attack at the mall or at the local school, a nuclear bomb?

There is one single line that is continually repeated throughout the entire Bible, throughout the Hebrew Bible as well as the Christian Scriptures.  In fact, this line appears more often than any other single phrase:

Do not be afraid!

Over the thousands of years of history out of which the various books of the Bible have emerged, this is the one single piece of wisdom has been given to all people of all time. It is an admonition to avoid succumbing to the underlying fear that threatens to poison and destroy the serenity of the human spirit.

Interestingly enough, when I look at the Bible, I find all sorts of things people might rightly fear - plenty of reasons to be afraid. The Bible is written by people who are experiencing war, disease, famine and threats of terror. It is written by people who have suffered great personal disaster, devastation, floods, earthquakes and exile.

The Bible never says there isn’t anything to be afraid of in life, instead it continuously says “Do not be be afraid." Don’t let fear eat away at you, don’t let fear destroy your spirit.

Sitting in exile in a South African prison, unsure of what would become of his life, Nelson Mandela had plenty of reasons to be afraid. It was during this time that he wrote:  

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear,
but the triumph over it.

When I reflect on my own life and on the times in which we live, I am well aware that there are lots of reasons to be afraid - the things that might make us afraid are constantly knocking at the door of our lives. But instead of always running, running, running and rather than being constantly on edge, I simply try to embrace what comes to me each day and at each moment, and when I do this I find an abiding Love standing there at the threshold - a Love that will never let us go.

Love abides and we have one another as we walk along the Way. So, we can live “courageously” and enjoy every moment of what our life has to offer us.

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