Tag Archives: fear

Going viral XVII: a magnificent magnolia.

“I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.”

PS 34:4

This verse jumped out at me the other morning. This is a single line that needs no context to be understood, but it comes in three parts: ‘delivered me from all my fears’ is the last, not the only part.

First: ‘I sought the Lord’: walking along Orchard Street, I was not consciously seeking anyone, but I had made the decision to get active and not sit around inviting feelings of self pity. Stepping outside myself, then; surely this is turning to God?

Second: ‘He answered me.’ On this occasion with a magnificent magnolia.

Third: Even if only for a moment, enjoying the tree, and the old brick wall beneath, I am set free from my fears. Perfect love casts out fear, and perfect love gave every passer-by, as well as the householder, this beautiful tree. Enjoy the spring so that you can bring your fearlessness – it was there for a moment! – to those around who need it.

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2 April, Desert XXXIV: Fear 5.

To most of us it would not be a desert, but a street of slightly run-down 19th Century workers’ houses, not enhanced by the yellow lines or the parked cars. But on this occasion? Well, it was the parked cars that drew me to the street, because I was one-to-one teaching Bradley, who was working for a geography project. This particular task involved surveying cars in different areas of town to discover where the newer and the older ones ‘lived’.

What we eventually did was not quite what I intended. Bradley would not walk down this street in case we should meet a local who would beat him up for trespassing on his territory. ‘They’ll get me later, even if they won’t attack me with you here.’ It was the same story in the other streets I attempted, so we ended up comparing railway, supermarket and seaside parking, but not walking down that street.

Jesus surely felt afraid when he said: ‘Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death, And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again.’ (Matthew 20:1819)

But he set his face for Jerusalem. Let’s pray for the grace to surmount our fears and follow him in our daily lives.

(A few months later Bradley moved 200 miles from home to take up an apprenticeship in a town he did not know! Perhaps the little challenges prepared him for that much bigger one.)

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8 March, Desert XI: Fear 4.

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Thomas Merton is living through the hotter part of the Cold War; the Cuban Missile Crisis would blow up a year later; he had cause to be afraid. In the days before this diary entry,* bombers had been flying low over the Monastery of Gethsemane, his home. Thinking about US and world politics aroused:

… my own fear, my own desperate desire to survive, even if only as a voice uttering an angry protest, while the waters of death close over the whole continent.

Why am I so willing to believe that the country will be destroyed? It is certainly possible, and in some sense it may even be likely. But this is a case where, in spite of evidence, one must continue to hope. One must not give in to defeatism and despair, just as one must hope for life in a mortal illness which has been declared incurable.

This is the point. This weakness and petulancy, rooted in egoism. 

Defeatism and despair are rooted in egoism, and they are not necessarily good survival tactics. Let us ask the Lord for a taste of the perfect love that casts out fear and despair

Thomas Merton, Turning towards the World, HarperSanFrancisco, 1996, p162.

Image from CD.

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7 March, Desert X: Fear 3.

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From The Life of Saint Teresa*

It must be carefully noted – and I say this because I know it by experience – that the soul which begins to walk resolutely in the way of mental prayer and can persuade itself to set little store by consolations and tenderness in devotion, and neither to be elated when the Lord gives them, nor disconsolate when he withholds them, has already travelled a great part of its journey. However often it may stumble, it need not fear a relapse, for its building has been begun on a firm foundation.

Yes, love for God does not consist in shedding tears, in enjoying those consolations and that tenderness which for the most part we desire and in which we find comfort, but in serving him with righteousness, fortitude and humility. The other seems to me to be receiving rather than giving anything.

As for poor women like myself, who are weak and lack fortitude, I think it fitting that we should be led by means of favours: this is the way that God is leading me now, so that I may be able to suffer certain trials which it has pleased his majesty to give me.

I have to admit to lacking fortitude at times, but Saint Teresa admits the same weakness, so I am in good company! But amid the circling gloom ‘God is leading me now.’ 

* In ‘The Complete Works of Saint Teresa of Jesus, Tr E. Allison Peters, London, Sheed & Ward, 1944, p68.

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5 March, Desert VIII: Fear 1

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Edward Thomas wrote ‘Out in the dark’ when he knew he was about to leave for the front during the Great War. No wonder fear drummed on his ear. Like Dylan Thomas, who admired him and claimed him as a Welsh poet, he was aware of the creative nature of night, but he was also often downcast.

We have to love the night, the dark, which is safe for the fallow deer, but does not feel safe to Thomas. Always remember that Jesus was afraid that Thursday night in the garden. Feeling fear is no sin or weakness but we must face our fears.

Out in the Dark

Out in the dark over the snow
The fallow fawns invisible go
With the fallow doe;
And the winds blow
Fast as the stars are slow.

Stealthily the dark haunts round
And, when a lamp goes, without sound
At a swifter bound
Than the swiftest hound,
Arrives, and all else is drowned;

And I and star and wind and deer,
Are in the dark together, — near,
Yet far, — and fear
Drums on my ear
In that sage company drear.

How weak and little is the light,
All the universe of sight,
Love and delight,
Before the might,
If you love it not, of night.

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26 February, Ash Wednesday. The Desert, I: This Space

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This Lent we will offer daily reflection on the Desert. We begin with a few lines from the Canadian poet, Kate Braid, which set the scene admirably.

This space is not emptiness,

This space is not, as you would say, Nothing there.

It is a space of fullness, open

to possibility. You would say, A foolish space.

Perhaps.

This is not denial. This is joy,

an empty palette waiting, bone

against the sky.

We are so afraid of the larger space.

Kate Braid, Inward to the Bones, Victoria BC, Polestar Book Publishers, 1998. The book explores the life and work of the artist and desert dweller, Georgia O’keeffe.

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February 14, Little Flowers LXIV: a Reflection on Brother Conrad’s prayers.

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We read yesterday how the prayers of Brother Conrad, an early Franciscan, opened the gates of heaven for a dead brother through his prayers. It was tempting to miss out this story from the Little Flowers, because the soul of that young brother who died went to Paradise through the merits of Jesus Christ, according to the Theology I was taught. I wasn’t looking for an argument! It comes naturally to Catholics to pray for the dead, but even so, where does Brother Conrad come in?

Firstly, it was his young friend who sought out Brother Conrad and asked him, not just to pray but to pray the Pater Noster – the Our Father – given to us by the Lord

‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,          and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’

It is as members of Christ’s body, the Communion of Saints, that the two Franciscan brothers come together in Conrad’s vision. It is as members of Christ’s body that they pray together: if the young brother requested that Conrad should say the Lord’s prayer for him, then that same prayer was at the front of his mind and heart: he was praying it himself, alongside Conrad; and where two or more are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them. So the youth, Brother Conrad, and the Lord himself were praying together to the Father.

Conrad had a gift of being able to encourage the lad and help him to fit into the earthly community where he had chosen – and been called – to live. Perhaps, then, that same gift exercised by 100 Pater Nosters recited within the Communion of Saints, helped the brother to free himself from his remaining pains of fear and guilt to be fit for heaven.

Conrad’s merits? I’m still not sure, but if you suggested that Conrad’s gifts as mentor on earth to this young man were still effective after the young man’s death, I would not argue with you. Let’s place before Jesus all those who relied on us in this life, and would ask for our sympathetic prayers, could they speak to us now; and with Jesus let us pray:

OUR FATHER …

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18 January. Church Unity Week: Unusual Kindness I.

sjc. big waveImage provided by SJC.

This year’s reflections for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity were prepared by the Churches in Malta and Gozo. We are sharing elements of their prayers, but follow the link for the full resources for personal or community prayer.

Naturally, the Maltese Christians draw our attention to the story in Acts 27-28 of how Paul, a prisoner in chains, was among a group who survived being shipwrecked on Malta.

And we being mightily tossed with the tempest, the next day they lightened the ship. And the third day they cast out with their own hands the tackling of the ship. And when neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small storm lay on us, all hope of our being saved was now taken away. And after they had fasted a long time, Paul standing forth in the midst of them, said: You should indeed, O ye men, have hearkened unto me, and not have loosed from Crete, and have gained this harm and loss. (27:18-21)

Reflection

To live an untethered life means that we may well find ourselves at the mercy of wind and wave. Besieged by storm and circumstance, carried by the tide, thrown off course, we can find ourselves run aground, clinging to the hope – that we might loosen our grip of individual claim and right, and hold to a shared ownership of this rock of truth.

Prayer

Reconciling God, as we feel the pain of past mistakes, shy away and retreat to individual strongholds; help us surrender a false sense of who we are, all that tethers us, and all that we hold precious. Bind us to humility and compassion, as we learn together, to receive from You, abide in You and Your love. Amen.

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24 November: The King VIII, What I Have Written.

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On the feast of Christ the Universal King, we are privileged to being you the final part of Sister Johanna’s reflections on the dialogue between Pontius Pilate, representing the Power of this world and Jesus with his spiritual power.

Pilate’s final act in Jesus’ regard is as enigmatic and confusing as anything that has ever occurred in the gospels. He affixes a notice to Jesus’ cross reading ‘Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews.’ Why? Why can’t Pilate leave it alone now? Why doesn’t he retreat back into his palace after his sentencing of Jesus, away from all the turmoil? Why does Pilate watch Jesus’ final journey to Golgotha carrying his cross, and then turn up himself at Golgotha? The notice was nailed to the cross just before it was raised, or possibly afterwards – the text isn’t clear. Why was Pilate still there? Did he feel that he had unfinished business? Was he ambivalent about the sentence he had passed? Or did he simply want to have the last word, now that Jesus was nearly dead, and probably unable to say anything more?

In light of our reflections, it is not possible to interpret Pilate’s notice as a sincere gesture of sorrow, nor would it represent an awareness, coming too late, of Jesus’ true kingship in a religious sense. None of Pilate’s actions at any point in Jesus’ trial or crucifixion suggest that Pilate ever grasps the true meaning of Jesus’ words and person. Nor does it seem to me to be one last attempt by Pilate to make Jesus’ enemies see the incongruity between their vision of Jesus as a political usurper and the actual appearance of Jesus in all his brokenness on the cross, undergoing a criminal’s death. By now, Pilate is fed up with the Jewish chief priests (see John 19:21-22).

But I do think that the notice nailed to the cross represents a confession of sorts on Pilate’s part. Although Pilate sees that Jesus was no threat to his position as governor, Jesus was very much a threat to Pilate as a man and human being. Where Pilate was a shallow human being, Jesus in every word and action was a man of depth. Where Pilate would change his ideological position according to his assessment of its usefulness in gaining the right friends, Jesus was a man whose actions were always consistent with his public teaching and his deepest aspirations, his sense of identity and his mission. Where Pilate was confused, Jesus was clear-headed and calm. Where Pilate tried to win support from the crowd to bolster his position and reinforce his sense of self, Jesus was completely autonomous with reference to public opinion. Jesus was able to express who he was and what he stood for in brilliantly concise terms. Pilate had spent his entire life trying to play one side against the other, lying, flattering, bragging, unable to imagine his existence without the trappings of power. And yes, Pilate was power-hungry and insecure. He could never get enough power, never enough to feel whole and at peace. Jesus also had a kind of hunger. Pilate sensed it. But Jesus was not hungry for power. He was hungry for souls, he hungered to awaken our hunger for him. Pilate was out for all he could get. Jesus was there to give us everything he had, his very life, for our salvation. He longed for us to turn to him, but he never forced it.

I believe that some of this dawned on Pilate as Jesus was led away to be crucified. The sniffer-dog in Pilate began to find a kind of power in Jesus that Pilate had not imagined even existed. He realised that Jesus, because of the integrity of his being, did not have power as other men have it – because other men’s power was the kind of power that could be lost. Jesus would never lose his power because he was power. And he was power because he was truth. There was no disorder in Jesus, no ‘parts’ of Jesus that did not spontaneously cleave to and express truth. This was a human power that was much greater than any power Pilate himself had ever encountered in anyone, or would ever be able to possess himself, and he knew it.

In the end, Pilate was thoroughly frightened by this, but he recognized Jesus’ power for what it was, and knew that Jesus’ force in the world would transcend every power structure that had ever existed or ever would exist. Pilate found that this Jesus, this Nazarene, was indeed a king. He was king of the Jews, and king of much more. He was, in every sense, a threat to Pilate’s person and personality. Jesus was king as Pilate would never be. As no man would ever be. Pilate is clear now. Jesus must be crushed. This Nazarene, this king of the Jews, must die.

 

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November 22: The King VI, Back to Pilate.

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Pilate is trying to finish with this troubling case. But he cannot shake it; it goes on and on. At the suggestion of releasing Jesus, the crowd erupts into violent, near-riot behaviour. They begin to scream for Jesus’ death. It becomes clear to Pilate that there is no ‘sane majority’, and no one wants this Jesus to be released. They want Barabbas, the thief and murderer, to be set free, not Jesus. Yet it is also Pilate’s opinion that Jesus is nothing more than a preacher, with no political aspirations at all. What is going on? Pilate is a superstitious man and he is beginning to feel odd (see John 19:8). What gods are frowning here, skewing this situation? His scalp is tingling with a weird anxiety that makes his blood run cold. He feels caught up in something uncanny, even preternatural.

Pilate tries to satisfy the crowd’s blood-lust by having Jesus taken to be scourged. Afterwards, the soldiers torture him psychologically and physically by mockery, and by making thorn branches into a crown and forcing it down on his head; they put a purple robe on him and make exaggerated bows before him, saying ‘Hail King of the Jews,’ He is slapped in the face. But it is still not enough for the crazed crowd. Pilate does not particularly like Jesus, but even less does he like the way things are going. He knows that whatever happens, the situation has become big enough to be talked about and remembered afterwards. He is anxious about how this will affect his reputation. Pilate tries again. He says to the crowd, ‘Look, I am going to bring him out to you to let you see that I find no case against him.’ And Jesus is brought out in his now physically weakened and bloodied condition, dressed in the purple robe and wearing the thorn-crown. Jesus says nothing. Pilate says, ‘Here is the man.’ Instead of being moved by Jesus’ brokenness and his manifest harmlessness, the crowd’s thirst for Jesus’ death intensifies, and their shouts for his execution increase in volume and violence.

Now Pilate’s pulse really begins to race. The situation continues to feel eerie to him. His fears increase, as the text says (19:8). He calls Jesus to him again in private and probably peers at him intensely. Anyone else in Jesus’ position would have one objective only: to save his own skin. But Jesus is astonishingly serene. What is this man about, Pilate wants to know? Jesus waits. Pilate obscurely detects the existence of a conflict on a level he is not accustomed to dealing with. He has rarely, if ever, taken seriously matters pertaining to the spirit world and is completely lost now.

Where do you come from?’ Pilate finally asks. His question doesn’t really make sense. He knew that Jesus was from Nazareth. But Pilate has begun to realise that Jesus is entirely different from the man he thought Jesus was. Pilate is thrashing about in the sea of his mind, grasping at anything that seems to float, struggling with waves of deep perplexity and dread.

SJC

 

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