We are in a season where the panic and fear seem to cast a cloud over every conversation. Where I live the coronavirus is Topic One in every exchange. Looming large over the nation is the fall election of president and congress-folk who will shape the welfare of individual lives and communities in our nation for the 2, 4 and 6 years to come. Beyond our own shores there is unimaginable suffering and pain–hunger, health, safety, warfare. All of these are reasons to be afraid!
Yet the Lenten challenge for me that keeps making itself evident is the Word most often repeated in Hebrew and Christian sacred texts: Don’t be afraid! This morning I was reading from the book of Jeremiah, about the fearful young one whom God is calling to speak truth to power, the holy words that God speaks are there: Don”t be afraid! The prophet Isaiah charges the trembling ones in captivity in Babylon about to try to go home again: Be strong do not fear! To shepherds out under a night sky, blinded by the Klieg lights of a choral cloud of angels, the opening refrain sung is: “Do not be afraid! And to Mary, called and choosing to be an agent of hope and peace in the world, the angel Gabriel opens with “Do not be afraid!” For one who is on the Lenten journey, this strikes me as the touchstone of the foundation of my meanderings and practice: DO NOT BE AFRAID!
When rehearsing stories of the sacred history, the words are easy enough to read, but what about 2020, with a world which seems to much more interwoven, complex and fraught with the perils of pain and disaster? I am sure that the challenge to let fear go is just as germane for me as it was for each of those hearers, back in their day. Yet, fear feels like an autonomic response in my body, as well as my heart and mind. This Lent how can I say “no” to fear?
I am practicing actions that mitigate my fear. I begin with gratitude; every day I am trying to keep track of the gifts of living I am continually being given–breath, song, beauty–so many more. How can I keep from singing? And singing! That is a powerful way to keep fear from lodging in the heart and ruminations: “I sing because I’m happy I sing because I’m free…” sang Ethel Waters, in “Member of the Wedding.” I also limit my intake of news and social media. I love hearing from and about friends and acquaintances, but too many threads and responses are fear-mongering ones. Therefore, I am deciding to know the bare bones of what’s happening, act responsibly as friend and citizen, and let the rest go unattended.
And I pray. Daniel (in illustration above) never gave up his attention to prayers and thoughts for the welfare of himself, his friends, the people he represented, even when doing so in the way he knew, by an open window, invited the possibility of more suffering. Whatever fears he had were not as strong as his commitment to the God who would never let him go.
This Lent I want to be led by the Spirit, not by fear, by practicing those things which ground me in Holy Presence, fully aware of the reality of the ways of the world. And live in a Spirit of Love, Power and Common Sense.
Frederick Buechner captures it for us all:
Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.
Amen and Amen!