In the face of fear…
June 21st 2015
Based on 1 Samuel 17: 32-49 & Mark 4:35-41
Hear these words from poet Walt Whitman: “The future is no more uncertain than the present.” Does that notion give you a sense of comfort or discomfort?
We have two marvelous stories from the scriptures today – both having elements of high drama and uncertainty and moments of fear. Anyone experience times of high drama or uncertainty? Anyone experience fear? What do we do in the face of our fear? What immobilizes us? What resources can we call upon?
In the famous story of David &Goliath, the scene opens with the opposing armies facing each other across the valley of Elah. They have been at ta stalemate for over 40 days. Neither army is willing to move because it would mean running down into the valley, and up the other side in a suicide mission. They are at a stalemate.
Finally, to break the stalemate, the Philistines have proposed a solution. We pick one warrior and you pick one warrior – they fight to the death and whomever wins, that army wins, and the losers become slaves. Sounds… well, much less bloody, however the Philistines have a secret weapon. His name is Goliath. He’s huge, and he’s trained for battle as hard as any top Olympian athlete. He doesn’t lose. The Israeli army knows this, and no one is taking up the challenge.
Now, this would be a very suspenseful moment in a movie scene, but alas, you’ve already heard the punch line – David volunteers to fight the giant and he wins the battle!
Malcom Gladwell, in his book “David & Goliath: underdogs, misfits, and the art of battling giants” suggests that David won the battle – not because he was fearless, not because he was stronger, but because in the face of fear, he doesn’t play the expected and acceptable game. He made up his own rules! Goliath was a heavy infantry man – armed to the teeth, and ready to do hand to hand combat. David, however, has no intention of honouring the rituals of single combat. He runs toward Goliath, because without armour he has speed and maneuverability. Goliath doesn’t have time to say, “Hey, you’re not playing by the …” THUNK – He’s down and he’s out!
We have another story. This one from the gospel from Mark is familiar to many. We have the sudden storm, the sleeping Jesus, the terrified disciples, their cry for help and Jesus speaking the words to the tempest. ‘Peace. Be still.’ Then the wind ceased and there was a dead calm.
I chose this particular version (NRSV) for this phrase `dead calm.’ I don’t think it means life-less calm. This past week at my workshop/ retreat at Sorrento Centre I learned that the phrase dead reckoning comes from deductive reckoning.
So, could dead calm mean deductive calm? Figuring out the source of our calmness? I think of the hymn “Be still my soul.” During a time when I had to face some really tough decisions I sat down at the piano and played this hymn over and over until the words filtered into my soul – and I felt that deductive calm, that based on recognizing the source of inner peace; and that source was with me in all the turmoil, guiding the future as yet unknown to me.
At the Courage to Serve retreat/workshop last week, there were 10 well trained people in the ministry – including Anglican, United, Jewish, and Australian Episcopalian. We were all there to work on discerning what God is calling us be about. For all of us, somewhere we were aware of the fear of “what if I get this wrong, what if I’m not doing what God is calling me to do, and on the other hand, if I do God’s will – what will that cost me in terms on security, predictability, relationships? We learned a process called a clearness committee, a way to have a conversation with your own soul, while a group supports the discernment by asking only honest questions. In other words questions that are not fixing, advising, correcting, in disguise. They said, if the phrase `clearness committee sounds `so sixties’ it is – the 1660’s, rooted in the Christian Quaker tradition.
Another way to help face fear, is to remember you’ve done it before. A young woman had been struggling with her job for a long time – not happy, needing a change but fearful of letting go of the security and failing. She had the support and encouragement of her friends, and family, but the thing that seemed to tip the balance was a conversation with her grandmother who reminded her, “You can do this, because you’ve done it before. You struck out on your own, and you made it work.”
What are the sayings, actions etc. that help you to move beyond your fear?
The future is no more uncertain that the present. Walt Whitman – poet
May my choices be based on my hopes, not my fears. Nelson Mandela
I will lie me down and bleed awhile, and get up and fight again. Jackie C.
If you fall, you find gold. Carl Jung
The congregation shared other sayings and memories that strengthened them.
“Fear is the cheapest room in the house. I would like to see you living in better conditions.” Hafiz – Sufi teacher & poet 14th century.
In her book Perseverance, Margaret Wheatley writes:
“Fear is just part of human life. It’s so common that every great spiritual tradition includes the injunction, “Be not afraid.”
If fear is this fundamental to being human, we can expect that we’ll feel afraid at times, perhaps even frequently. Yet when fear appears, we don’t have to worry that we’ve failed, or take it as a sign that we’re not as good as other people. In fact, we’re just like other people. Fear is simple evidence that we’re human.
What’s important to decide is what we do with our fear. We can withdraw, flee, distract or numb ourselves. Or we can acknowledge that we’re scared. And stay right here.
We can stay where we are and bravely investigate our fear. We can move toward it, curious about it. We can even interview it. What does it feel like? What colour is it? does it have a texture, size, personality?
What’s important is to question the fear itself. We’re not asking ourselves `why’ we feel afraid, which is our usual inquiry. We just want to know more about this seemingly frightful creature that showed up in us.
Our investigation moves us closer and closer, and then the fear begins to change. Paradoxically, the more we engage directly with it, the less fearful it becomes.
It is our curiousity that transforms fear. Most often, it dissolves into energy that we can work with.
And all because we were willing to develop a relationship with what, at first, appeared so frightening. P 71 Perseverance.
In the face of fear… I encourage you to do something audacious, do something outrageous, go deep into your faith, pray – really!, let go and let God, have a clearness (not clearance) committee, lean into the power of friends, have a conversation with your fear, remember – you’ve done daring things before – you’ve got this! And hear God singing to you – “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, promised to be always near.” (words by John Bell, Iona Community)