The Beautiful Life & Perfect Death of Father Davidson: Chapter 4

The Father began: “The desert teaches how to be hungry; and how to be thirsty. And it teaches that these things are not as bad as we fear….of course, if we become too hungry, and especially if we become too thirsty, then we’ll die….so the desert also teaches us moderation. If we can learn it, then the desert teaches us how to live wisely.”

“I first entered the desert like most do—proud, and arrogant—sure of myself and wrapped in many layers of deceit. I was bloated, but ready to shed these skins. I came to the desert to thin down, whether I knew that or not at the time, to come clean and be made anew. My first experience of the desert was at night, I had come to the monastery of Mar Saba, east of Bethlehem, and for a time I made my home there. I arrived there at night during a hamsin, when the wind blows ferociously, and stirs the dust and sand into great billows. The moon was full that night, though it was mostly hidden, but when it did shine through, it appeared red as blood, and it lit the night sky like a furnace.”

“I can’t imagine a more appropriate welcome to the desert, for there was a hamsin also raging within me—passions blowing violently, desires swirling mercilessly in my mind, stirring up dust and sand which blinded me, causing me to lose my way. The desert was dangerous that night but I knew that I needed it, and I had to face it. During a hamsin the winds can blow so fiercely that I’ve seen palm trees with their tops bent over, parallel to the ground—their fronds whipping about frantically, as torrents of sand flow past them, tearing and ripping them to shreds. Similarly, I bent under the strain of those winds that night, and felt the sand pummel my skin, ripping at it, scouring it, until I couldn’t take it any longer; then I turned my face towards the stone cliffs that I had sheltered against, with my lungs aching, gasping for a breath of clean air. When the hamsin passed, several hours later, I was shattered and broken, close to death, but not dead; rather I had begun a journey of rebirth. Then, I knew I needed the desert, it was my only hope, because even after that night of great pain, even after that hamsin had subsided, my inner hamsin was still stirring within me, weaker yet still unbeaten.”

“I looked up at the night sky, fresh and vibrant after its vigorous washing. I was exhausted—a feeling I would soon grow very accustomed to in the desert—yet I was exhilarated too, and expectant…perhaps delirious as well. I was lying on a ledge not far from the monastery, and I could hear the waters of the Kidron gurgling at the base of the gorge below me. I smiled at the sound of the water as I drifted off to sleep.”

“The next morning, as sunlight brightened the rim of the gorge, and cast deeper shadows into its depths by contrast, I awoke to the pleasant sensation of warmth on my cheeks, though they were still raw from their cleansing the night before. The air smelled fresh and fragrant; and small birds darted across the emptiness, suspended between the cliff faces on both sides of the brook. I watched them fly, carried by warm currents rising up from below, bobbing along, upon these invisible waves; telling me that my own soul would soon be flying like they were, prophesying to my heart that their freedom would soon be mine, and my own spirit would be let loose to dance upon the wind.”

Father Davidson stopped for a moment, and in the silence I glanced around the fire at the others. Everyone’s eyes were fixed on the Father, waiting to hear what he would say next. The fire cast a warm glow on the faces all around; and sparks rose and drifted off into the darkened sky. I followed one with my eyes as it lifted up and up, eventually merging with the stars; becoming one, I imagine, with some far-off galaxy. Father Davidson’s voice brought my mind back to earth as he continued with his desert story:

“The morning brought with it an incredible thirst. It came upon me very quickly, and suddenly I felt that I needed water desperately, with every fiber of my being. The dust and sand had covered me throughout, and had dried my skin, filling my ears, and nose, and my mouth; fine grit lodged in my molars and between my teeth. The sound of the stream down below once again reached my ears and called out to me. I rose from where I had slept, and clambered over to a nearby footpath, which led down the cliff-face to the stream.”

*  *  *

The Beautiful Life & Perfect Death of Father Davidson: Chapter 3

It was late afternoon but still a warm day, with a slight breeze picking up, blowing in from over the water. The two men rode towards town and then turned onto a side street heading to the east. The bicycle was loaded down tremendously with numerous packages, large and small, tied off to the frame, the handlebars, and the rack over the rear tire. String and duct tape held the packages in place though they dangled and swung wildly as the bike coursed across the gravel road, dodged pot-holes and the occasional errant squirrel, and bounded forward, driven by the strong legs of Father Davidson as he stood on the pedals and pulled aggressively on the handles. His passenger held on as best he could, gripping the edges of the seat tightly, with both legs extended stiffly out to the sides, tensed and quivering, as he worked hard to keep the soles of his feet from dragging across the street surface just inches below them. Both men appeared to be enjoying the warm sunshine on their faces as they held their heads slightly upturned to the sky. The Father veered off the main road and onto a smaller dirt driveway, past several old cars, and an RV which were all parked along the side. Just over the rail fence which lined the driveway on one side, was a large meadow—an old orchard actually—although the grasses and field-flowers had grown so tall, and had filled the space between the ancient fruit trees, so that now it was difficult to see them all.

Father Davidson stopped near the fence and I dismounted and shook my legs out a bit to relax them after the strenuous ride. Several people emerged from inside the RV and a couple made their way from the orchard walking towards us, as the Father leaned his bike up against the fence. He turned to me and asked if I’d mind if he left me here for just a little while, he had something that needed to be done and would return within a half hour at the most. He ducked through the rails of the fence and walked off into the grasses between the fruit trees, passing the couple as they made their way up to his bike. I saw them exchange pleasantries as they passed but nothing more than that.

Everyone seemed to know exactly which packages attached to the bicycle were for them as they untied them from the frame, handlebars and rack. I asked how they all knew the Father and they answered that he let them stay here on his property and eat whatever they wanted from the trees and surrounding vines. Tara, the wife of the couple who had walked up from the orchard, said that the property actually belonged to the Father’s two sisters, he had deeded it to them years ago before he left the country, but now that he was back, the sisters of course let him use the property as he wished, for whom he wished, and he also lived in a small cabin which he had built on the far eastern edge of the orchard.

“It’s incredible,” said Adam, Tara’s husband. “The assortment of trees that grow here, things you wouldn’t normally find in this climate: avocados, even some citrus, and nuts, and then of course figs, various apples, pears and plums and some other things that are more typical. He has grapes and kiwi too, would you believe it, oh and pomegranate too.”

“Where do you stay?” I asked them.

“We have a tent set up under the trees,” said Tara. “It’s wonderful. We have no place else to go. It is a Godsend. It really is.”

“We’re staying in the RV,” said one of the others, though he didn’t share his name.

I looked around, it really was a beautiful place, wild and unkempt, yet with a natural order, bountiful and welcoming. Everyone looked happy too and appeared to belong here, at peace and untroubled, even though by the looks of them, they had no money and little material wealth to fall back on when times grew tough, which they already appeared to have done.

I looked at my watch, wondering where Father Davidson had gone off to and when he’d be back.

“He’ll be back soon, he just went off to pray,” said Tara as she noticed my unspoken question. Then she smiled. “He’ll be praying for you now too. He prays for everyone. Several times a day.” Everyone in the group smiled about that. “It is very sweet,” added Tara. “He is very sweet.”

Later, Father Davidson showed me around the orchard, introducing me to the various trees, and telling me a little about their histories, their provenance, where they originated and how they came to be thriving in his garden now.  Some had been growing there for many, many years, particularly the apples, for longer than most people knew. While others had been planted within the past decade; several were gifts he brought back with him from overseas.  As the sun set below the western tree-line—taller windbreaks made up of conifers in the distance, and poplars closer in—we all gathered around a newly made fire, just beginning to crackle and spit. The fire grew within the ring of rocks which anchored a clearing that had been created in the midst of the orchard. We made “hobo dinners”—potatoes, carrots, onions, and a variety of other vegetables also grown on the property, all sprinkled with salt, some pepper, along with rosemary and thyme—all wrapped in foil, and placed in the midst of the fire, or tucked into the hot coals which had been gathered along the edges for greater convenience.

As we ate our dinner, someone asked Father Davidson about his time overseas, if there was anything he would share.

“Yes, there is,” he said. “I’ll share the desert with you. Because that is the most precious gift I carry with me from that time. It is the most important thing I believe, and maybe I can take you there. Hopefully I can take you there. Maybe you’ll come with me.”

*  *  *

~FS

The Beautiful Life & Perfect Death of Father Davidson: Chapter 2

I had of course heard of the Father, and had seen him before, many times actually, as our town is not very large; and his family had lived in the area for a couple of generations, perhaps more. I myself however, was relatively new, so he didn’t know me and we had never actually met. He examined me, in what I soon learned was his characteristic way, with his head tilted slightly to the side, a smile upon his lips, and eyes that were penetrating but gentle. We stood silently for a few moments just looking at each other—gathering information and forming opinions. At least that’s what I was doing.

He broke the silence, “I am hungry, let’s eat!” He looked at me with anticipation, “Do you have time? Will you join me?”

I had, in fact, been on my way home to eat. I was very hungry. I hesitated though, not sure what to do. He sat against the tree and motioned me to sit down with him as he pulled some things from his pockets: figs, freshly picked, a handful of almonds, an apple, and some smoked salmon. This was better than what I had planned back at home: corn chips, Oreos, a bowl of cereal, and half a beer. So I sat down next to him and leaned back against the tree. He cut the apple into slices and set them on a handkerchief spread out between us, along with the other food items and he began to eat.

Nobody was completely certain if Father Davidson was actually an ordained priest, or pastor, or how he had come to be called “Father”. It was said that he had spent time in the Middle East, quite a number of years at a monastery in the desert east of Bethlehem, and perhaps he had become a monk there, and this might have been the source of his title. I was curious about this and wanted to ask him, when he started to speak, seemingly having read my mind:

“I have been a son, a brother, and a father. I prefer to be a son, but the world needs fathers.”

“It is hard to be a father,” I replied.

“It isn’t always easy being a son either, but its better I think. I had children, many of them and they were wayward; they squabbled, they fought…they needed direction. There were hungry children, many of them where I once lived and I fed them. I gave them bread, several loaves to help them live but they fought me.”

“What do you mean they fought you? For giving them bread?”

“For the bread…in spite of the bread, no because of it. Who knows exactly? But as I returned home the next day they attacked me and one little boy, not more than eight, if that old, pulled out a knife and tried to stab me.”

“You’re kidding?! He stabbed you? The boy you gave bread to, all the boys?!”

“Yes. And they became my sons right then. In that moment I was their father. All their pain, their loneliness, their fear, they gave it all to me, to hold for them, for just a little while. So I took it and I held it for them. Little souls.”

When he said this I began to cry, I’m not sure why, but this story touched me, and it felt good to cry. It was a relief to cry, and Father Davidson let me cry, silently, without condemnation. I looked over at him and saw a tear running down his cheek as well, over his smiling lip, and then falling to the ground. For a while we ate in silence.

“This fish is wonderful. Where do you get it?” I asked.

“I have a friend, a brother really, and he shares it with me.”

“It is really good. And the figs too, thank you.”

“You’re welcome. They aren’t far, I can show you the tree, you can pick some.”

“I would like that sometime.”

“Let’s go now. I have my bike there,” he turned and pointed behind the tree. “I’ll take you, sit on the back.” He said as he gathered his things, stood up and pulled the bicycle out from behind the tree.

I hesitated, again unsure of what to do. Surprised by the offer I stood motionless for a moment and considered what I had still to do that day. My day was not busy, I could afford the time so I got on, straddling the seat and held on as he pedaled us back up the street towards town.

~FS

The Beautiful Life & Perfect Death of Father Davidson

Chapter 1:

Father Davidson had his detractors because, frankly, everyone does. But a close examination of his life will show that, to an honest and impartial observer, there is little or no justification for this. Still, there were some who thought he was “a bit much” when he discussed his philosophy so guilelessly and sincerely, and they doubted his motives when he took the side of the poor in our town.  They said he did it for attention, or to appear better than everyone else and these people resented him for his good deeds, and his good nature.

Strangely, during Father Davidson’s life, this contingent of malcontents had an outsized influence on public opinion so that many people, who otherwise would be inclined to admire the Father’s exploits, instead grew to distrust him; and those who ordinarily wouldn’t have held any opinion at all, decided there must be something wrong with him or “why would people say what they did about him?”

The thought at the time was that perhaps the good he did wasn’t good after all, and maybe his apparent good nature was a deception, hiding some less admirable traits beneath the surface. “He likely has secrets,” they’d say, “Nobody does the things he does and really means it.” Some went so far as to assert that he “likely is mentally ill, and could even be dangerous.”

The first time I met the Father he was dancing upon a wall. It was a long, tall stone wall that ran alongside a road leading south out of town. He took one step, two, and made a little hop, then gingerly turned about in place, and proceeded again; one step, two, a hop and a turn. In this way he made his way along the top of the wall. As I approached him I was surprised to see a man his age proceeding in such a way. He appeared to be in his upper forties, perhaps a bit older, in good physical condition, though hardly an athlete—and certainly not a gymnast. His turns made me queasy because they were not elegant; his arms flapped about wildly trying to maintain equilibrium as his torso contorted and twisted in order to keep himself aloft. Somehow he managed it, again and again, turning and hopping his way down the length of the wall and never falling off.

“What a peculiar man.” I thought to myself. “Why is he doing that? He’s going to break his neck for sure.” But I stood and watched, fascinated and waiting for him to fall.

A car sped by just then, and honked loudly while someone screamed out the open window, “Don’t fall!” I heard them laughing as they drove off. And he didn’t fall, though he seemed perpetually preparing to do so. He was like a marionette up there, stilted, uncoordinated but magically somehow suspended above the earth, as if held up by invisible strings. I continued to watch him from the street-side of the wall, and was about to call out to him but then thought better of it, not wanting to distract him. Just then I heard another voice calling out to him from the back-side of the wall: “What in hell are you doing up there? Get off my wall!” I heard the voice yell out to him.

The Father continued along the wall in his artful way but turned his head cautiously in the direction of the voice on the other side of the wall. “Ah, my benefactor, I am almost to the tree,” he said.

The tall stone wall lined a private property, dividing the yard from the street, and at one corner where the street descended into the woods, there was a large chestnut tree whose lowest branch rested upon the wall. The Father was closing in on this branch, and it was apparent this was his destination, and his means of returning to earth. He smiled as he reached the branch and sat on it, turning to face his accuser.  “I made it!” He exclaimed.

“Fine,” said the voice behind the wall. “Now would you mind getting down? What are you thinking?…Are you ten?! What’s wrong with you?”

“I was just walking on the wall.” The Father said as he smiled down at the voice; and I smiled to myself, suppressing a slight chuckle. Was it really that simple? I asked myself as I looked up at him. I always seem to need a reason to do something, or a reason why I did it.

“Why do you keep walking on my wall? Next time I’m calling the police. I don’t want you up there,” said the voice.

“Come up and see,” the Father leaned out, reaching his hand down behind the wall towards the voice.

“No. I’m not going up there. Just get down…Enough of your stupidity. Go on! Just go away.”

The Father stood up and sighed, “As you wish, of course.” He grabbed hold of the branch and swung his body out away from the wall, and then dropped to the ground not far from where I was standing. He brushed himself off and held out his hand to me, “Father Davidson, and you are?”

“Francis,” I replied and shook his outstretched hand.

“Friend or foe?” he asked, cocking his head slightly to the side and squinting at me as if to get a better look.

“Friend, I hope.”

“We shall see.”

***

~FS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Time To Rest

Every seven years the Israelites took a Sabbath year, letting their fields go fallow, and every seventh day they rested, imitating their God. This was not about deprivation but about freedom. The Hebrew word (shmita) for the yearly Sabbath literally means: Release!

How can our culture today find “release”? Indeed, how can our world find freedom in the midst of the pulsating, incessant global economy? Who in their right mind would voluntarily let their fields go fallow, metaphorically speaking?

Very few would. It is strong medicine and difficult to swallow. Bitter—at least as seen from the perspective of one ‘in the world’. But when one finds oneself on the other side, not ‘in the world’ any longer; or at least pried away from ‘the world’ to some degree—as we now find ourselves thanks to a global pandemic—we may begin to see, if we are fortunate and perceptive, that this medicine may actually be sweet after all.

It may still be difficult for us to swallow, but given no choice, we drink it down all the same. To our surprise it may open our eyes…and awaken our spirits, and restore our souls. If we spend a little less energy fighting it, fearing it, or blaming ‘the doctor’, but instead, let the medicine do its work, we may— if we are willing—discover ‘release’ and freedom that leads to genuine spiritual peace and joy—and a new life!

Psalm 23 from scripture can give us a higher perspective on this pandemic, a spiritual reminder calling us to trust the medicine, have faith in the doctor, and accept with gratitude the gift of a Sabbath rest (even if it wasn’t sought):

“The LORD is my shepherd: I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”

This is not about deprivation; this rest that we are now being given (perhaps against our will) is not about destruction. A global pandemic can bring fear, and it is certainly bringing with it the shadow of death, but even in the presence of death—our greatest enemy—the Lord is also giving us freedom and release! We may now rest from our incessant labors, letting the soil of our souls abide in peace; and allowing this strong medicine to restore us to health. This is my prayer for us.

~FS

Spiritual Orientations

You would think that I, as a Christian, would always love God and Jesus Christ, and would want to know Him and do His will. Intellectually speaking you’d be right, but in the manner that I actually live my life, and within my spirit—in my heart—this can often be something different.

I’m talking about something common to man (I believe) regardless of whether one is a Christian or not, or merely calls themselves one, or is actually something quite different: an atheist, a Buddhist, Hindu, Moslem, Jew, or something else, or none of the above.

Man is a body and a spirit. I believe this is true, and this fact is foundational and must be assumed in order to understand the rest of my argument. Even if one doesn’t know that they are spirit, and can’t find a way to experience this aspect of themselves, and believes that they are only body, this makes no difference to the truth that man is body and spirit.

In fact, those that might insist that they are only body—and deny that there is a spirit world, and a God who is spirit, through whom all things came into being—these illustrate the very thing that I am hoping to explain and convince the reader about: that the direction and manner that each of us move our own spirit, how we direct the deepest and innermost aspect of our being, is the primary thing that either draws us into closer relationship with God, or causes us to fall away and ultimately to lose sight entirely of all things spiritual, and to become blind to the existence of things beyond the physical realities.

The movement of our spirit is first, and any name we may call ourselves (Christian, Buddhist, atheist etc.) follows only after, and as a result of that specific movement. But what is this movement of the spirit that I am referring to, and how does it affect our daily life? It is the primal cause active within us, which results in our thoughts and feelings and how we respond to our environment. Often we only see cause and effect as it occurs on the physical level, but there is a more fundamental cause on the spiritual level, with more essential effects on how we interact with everything in our daily life. It can be very difficult to perceive this movement of our spirit within us, and it becomes more and more difficult the further we move in the direction away from God. Yet, as we draw closer to God it becomes clearer and easier to see.

If we are unable to perceive the movement of our spirit, we at least can see by our thoughts and feelings the deeper orientation of our spirit. An atheist, for instance will have no belief in God, and no interest in what he believes to be unreal; his thoughts and feelings are indifferent or perhaps even antagonistic towards the concept of God. How could he ever turn back in the direction of a God he doesn’t believe exists? In his or her case probably only by divine intervention can his spirit be turned back in the direction of God, and only by this divine grace will he discover new thoughts—an epiphany, a road to Damascus experience—in which his thoughts and feelings, as if by a miracle, flip and he is converted.

And what of a professing Christian, one who believes and seeks deeper relationship with God, yet maybe they have a weak relationship with God, or one that is basically cold, unfulfilled, or maybe even dead in a sense? They too may be unable to see the state of their spirit as it truly is—its true orientation—because it is hidden beneath the abundance of thoughts and feelings that they have, and the ideas of who they are, or how the ‘should’ be acting and feeling. If they can see their spirit as it moves within them they may see that it is moving without God, and even in opposition to Him. But if they can’t see this, they may be able to notice that their thoughts are not about God at all, but rather about many other things instead; and they may see that their feelings are cold and indifferent or even hostile to God, maybe angry with Him for some reason or another. These thoughts and feelings can show them the true orientation of their spirit, even if they can’t perceive it outright, and these thoughts and feelings give explanation for why they have no connection to the God whom they profess to love.

Because the spirit is difficult to discern, it is often easier to focus on the level of our thoughts and feelings, and maybe to decide that this is really the only realm to be concerned about, and possibly to imagine that this is the only place to focus our attention. It can be very helpful to address our thoughts and feelings, but it can be much more powerful if we are able to address the movement of our spirit. Turning our spirit in one direction or the other has much greater impact upon the course of our life. Like the turning of the rudder on a ship—where the movement in the moment is small and quick—but the change in direction over time can become monumental.

Similarly, the movement of the spirit within us is very fast, like lightning, but after it moves, in its wake thereafter grows a greater and greater impact on the direction of our life, and the flow of our thoughts, and the direction these thoughts will take us. I will share one example from my own life that may illustrate this phenomena, and hopefully I can describe it accurately.

A little over six months ago, in late July, I had been praying for a period of time. Typically I pray standing or sitting before my special place, where I have a number of crosses given to me by people whom I love, as well as some icons of Christ and various saints, and one or more oil lamps. As I was coming near the end of my prayer time I suddenly experienced a shift deep in my being. It was very quick and almost imperceptible to me but I felt it unfold on many levels, and in various ways within me: in one sense it felt like a magnetic change in polarity whereas the moment before I had felt myself pulled, in a sense, in the direction of my prayer nook towards the crosses etc. and then the next moment, I felt my being turning away and drawing back and away from my place of prayer; emotionally I experienced a feeling of anxiety and fear, or concern; and in my thoughts I considered that this was a significant change and something that I needed to take seriously, then I thought that I was overreacting and was making it up, then I thought it may not be serious at all and I laughed a little about it, and then I decided I should take it at least a little seriously and I tried mentally to recreate the experience I had previously enjoyed, but then discovered that I was unable to do so with my mind.

I ended my prayer and over the next couple weeks I didn’t notice much of a difference at first, but slowly my routine spiritual life and activities began to unravel. I continued to pray several times each day but had lost the focus and attention I previously enjoyed. I continued to attend church services, but lost interest in attending vespers and other services apart from the Liturgy on Sunday. I continued to read the Bible but my heart was not in it. Confession, which had been a weekly joy for me, I began to do less and less and I started to lose my understanding of its purpose and no longer felt the inner freedom that it had previously afforded me. I began to realize that the inner shift I had perceived back in July during that prayer session was beginning to take a significant and serious toll on my spiritual life. The problem though is that I couldn’t motivate myself to make a change, I was just losing interest in my spiritual life; and this progressed further over subsequent months so that I began to lose memory of my own first-hand experiences of God, so that I began to question these experiences, so that my thoughts about my spiritual life became more pessimistic, ironic and even sarcastic.

I was startled to see that I was becoming much more secular in my approach to life and losing the insight I had once had towards the spiritual life. And what was worse, I noticed that this didn’t bother me very much, it seemed to me at the time that whatever spiritual life I lost, I could easily replace with an equally absorbing, interesting and meaningful material life. I began to understand how it is very possible to become an atheist, or agnostic or just one who doesn’t think or care much about spiritual reality and truth.

But I wondered about what had happened to me, and why I couldn’t get back to where I had been in July. Fortunately, by the end of the year I discovered a deep reservoir within me of anger and blame towards God, and despair, all related to the terrible and awful facts of disease and death—the eventual loss of everything that we love, and finally the loss of our own lives. Only after struggling for some time with this, and finally coming to understand that God is not to blame for death, and that He actually is the only one who proclaims victory over death and offers us eternal life—only after coming to peace with God in this way, was I able to allow myself to shift again back in the direction of God, away from my flight into worldly and material oblivion. Though I had still wanted to be close to God during this entire time (at least in theory), I realized that it would be impossible to truly seek Him and truly draw near to Him in my spirit, if at the same time I am genuinely angry at Him and blaming Him for all my losses.  I don’t believe we can hate and truly love at the same time, we aren’t multitaskers in that way.

It has now been a couple months since I was first able to turn my spirit back in the direction of God, but my spiritual life is still far from what it had been back in July. Real damage happened in the interim, I truly went in the wrong direction and it appears that it will take time and God’s mercy to restore me. However, real healing is taking place and I can sense that my inner orientation is directed towards Him again and this is making a great deal of difference. The secular approach is lessening within me and the material world is becoming less opaque; I am beginning to experience and see spiritual life and reality once again. The subtlest movement of the spirit, which may be barely perceptible to us can have a great impact upon us and is something to be taken seriously; it is worth searching for and learning to direct in the Way that is truly best for us.

~FS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ending Fear’s Tyranny

A friend recently gave me a compliment, calling me fearless. He said, “You are completely fearless aren’t you? I think you are completely fearless.” I was startled by his assessment, embarrassed, and also afraid to let him down by telling the truth. My first impulse was to confirm his opinion, by saying something like, “Yes, you know, I guess I really am fearless…aw, shucks.” And, shamefully, I may have actually begun my reply with some similar sort of deceit; but then I caught myself and came clean, assuring him that: “No, I am not fearless.”

I regret the truth that I am not fearless; but still I was encouraged by the fact that he at least thinks I am, and his opinion of me, gave me a little boost of courage, I must admit. And it got me to thinking further about fearlessness, and the characteristics and source of this virtue.

It seems to me, and I’ve heard others say this as well, that it is less important to be without fear, than it is to be able to function properly while in the presence of fear, or in the face of it. We may not be able to eradicate our fear, but we are capable of overcoming it; we can take our fear out of the driver’s seat, and make it a mere passenger, along for the ride—perhaps occasionally giving us some sound advice from the back seat, but certainly no longer taking us for a ride.

I can’t imagine living a life in total absence of fear, however I can envision living a life so bound by fear that it is hardly living a life at all. In fact, I don’t have to imagine this; I’ve seen people destroyed by their fear: afraid of their inner pain, and driven by it into the arms of addictions, numbing themselves with all kinds of distractions. We can fear so many things: we fear being hurt, we fear being embarrassed, we have the fear of being cheated, or made the fool, the fear of unrequited love, fear of failing, fear of losing, fear of the dark, fear of other people, fear of our own inadequacies, fear of telling the truth, fear of being ourselves—and so many others—the fear of growing old, of loneliness, disability, and finally, the fear of dying.

Certainly fear has its place and some fears are helpful: fear may tell us not to swim with crocodiles, or not to thrust a fork into an electrical outlet, or that we should run out of a burning building. But many fears merely stand between us and the lives we desire—the lives we were created, and intended to live.

What is it that can help us transcend our fear; how can we bridge the gap between a life bound by fear/anxiety/worry and a potential life of living free from their tyranny? The fears that bind us are typically not instinctual fears, but rather deriving from our thoughts; therefore, one step to freedom from fear’s prison involves cultivating freedom from our thoughts. Learning to step into the stillness and the silence beyond, or beneath, our thought-world, is a big step towards freedom from fear’s tyranny.

Yet, to step into the silence and the stillness beyond our thoughts, requires courage and a measure of freedom right from the start. How do we find courage when we don’t feel courageous? Especially, how do we find the courage to step into our own inner world—that uncomfortable, possibly terrifying place where all of our monsters reside? I propose that the best, and most perfect, and most complete way is to look trustingly to our Heavenly Father, and more specifically to His Son, Jesus Christ—our Lord, our friend and brother, our guide—He can be our example, role-model and our source of courage.

Jesus, though God incarnate, was also fully human and apparently not without fear. The night before his death—before his murder—he prayed to His Father that this imminent outcome might be removed, but also that God’s will would be done, and an angel came and strengthened Him in his last difficult hours. Here we see prayer to God, and trust in God modeled for us, even in the face of fear or anguish, and then we see God providing comfort and assurance.

Many things may get in the way of our following in these same footsteps, (and knowing this same kind of freedom of action), and most of these things which may obstruct us are thoughts, all kinds of thoughts that we have, such as: God doesn’t exist, Jesus isn’t real, this won’t work for me, God doesn’t understand my problems which are far too complicated, I’m worthless, I can never forgive, I can’t face others, I won’t ever let others see me so weak etc.

I propose that none of these thoughts, nor any of the myriad others just like them, are worth what they give us, nor what they keep from us; they give us suffering and enslavement, and they keep us from love, inner freedom and peace.

“God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him….There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:16, 18)

I think that we all should know God, we all should meet and develop relationship with Jesus Christ. I don’t say “should” here in the moral sense of right and wrong, but in the practical sense that relationship with God is the beginning of courage and freedom. If we learn love from the source of love, and experience love by seeking that perfect love which is Jesus Christ, and have Him as our standard of action, then we have a great opportunity to free ourselves from the confines of our own thinking (and feeling) and from enslavement to our fears.

Like a child learning to ride a bike, or learning how to swim, we can envision ourselves in this life-long endeavor of learning how to love. The little child looks to their teacher and trusts in that person, forgetting their own fear of falling or of sinking. We can look to Jesus, our teacher, forgetting our fears, and trusting in the way that He enlightens.

Learning to live free from the tyranny of fear, learning to love instead, is a foundational and essential task, I think, for a fulfilling, meaningful and healthy life. Whatever else we may do in life, whatever accomplishments and successes we may achieve, whatever legacy we may leave, none of it amounts to anything if we have not learned how to love as God loves.

Most of us have all sorts of thoughts and ideas about God; however, I believe, that most of what we think about Him actually gets in the way, and inhibits our knowing Him as He truly is. Just as fear keeps us from knowing ourselves and knowing each other, it also gets in the way of knowing God. Instead, we make up fantasies about ourselves, about each other, and certainly about God; making Jesus into who we want Him to be, rather than who He says He is, and who He actually is.

Scripture tells us that God is love; the Bible also gives us many lessons in this reality of love, with the most central lesson being, I think, what is known as the “Great Commandment” in which Jesus gives us the key to life, (freedom, peace, joy) and love: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22: 37-39) This is the way to know God, and the more we will love like Him, the more we come to understand about Him, and the closer we will come into His presence.

Scripture also tells us that God is Spirit and can only be known in spirit. We often anthropomorphize God, making Him in the image of man, and then we reflect upon this misrepresentation, these caricatures that we’ve constructed of God; we argue against whatever straw-man we have raised in our own minds in place of the real God. But this does not change God, it only alienates man further from God. What could be worse and more tragic than alienation from the source of love, in whose image and likeness we are all made (as scripture also describes)? Seeking God in spirit is the antidote for our alienation.

I believe that prayer is the primary activity of our spirit; in particular prayer that seeks God beyond words, though our prayer might begin with words. The prayer that I find most effective in banishing fear, is a prayer that calls upon the name of Jesus, and which seeks the love of God; it begins with words which focus my mind on Christ, but then gradually sheds language, and dives into silence, seeking instead a deeper first-hand presence and experiential sharing. The words I often start with are, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me” or “Come to my help, oh God. Lord Jesus hurry to my rescue” or I may pray to fulfill the great commandment, and focus all my mind, heart, soul and strength to this end; allowing God’s love to fill all aspects of my being, that I may be made anew in the likeness of love.

Prayer often begins in our spare moments, and then it can grow into our every moment; hopefully becoming the primary activity of our entire being. In time, we will find the stillness that exists behind the veil of our language, and this stillness we can carry with us throughout our daily life. This stillness which we carry within us, allows us to hear and manifest the word of God—the love of God—as we go about our daily life. With the presence of this love, palpable and real inside us, we can enjoy a real and tangible power; but it is a gentle and peaceful power which is able to resist fear’s tyranny, and any other of the things that would try to enslave us. Knowing God’s love is a power that makes us bold and courageous in the face of fear.

~FS