“There is no passion so contagious as that of fear,” wrote Michel de Montaigne.
During the five minute drive to Auburn Manor in downtown Chaska Monday morning, I turn on the radio to hear what they’re saying about the Vikings’ overtime victory over the Bears.
I turn to the ESPN sports channel. But it’s not about sports. It’s Glenn Beck advising listeners to buy food insurance. On the heels of the call to buy food insurance in preparation for catastrophe comes the advice on how to buy your first gun.
Passion. Contagion. Fear. They’re everywhere. Not just Glenn Beck and the far right, but on the left, in the middle, and among the apathetic and the cynical. Fear does not have one opinion. It is a contagious passion that has a thousand different voices. While the foundations of the familiar shake, we are infected by a pandemic of fear.
Fear does terrible things to a person and to a society. It is for this reason that the New Testament Gospels see fear as the root source of ill-will, self-absorption, greed, and war. The “Fear not” uttered by the heavenly messengers in Luke’s birth narrative is repeated in the middle and at the end of the Christ story. “Fear not, little flock.” “Fear not, for I am with you.” It is both invitation and command: “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear…”.
We are always prone to fall back into fear. We fear because we are mortals. We die and we know it. We seek to secure ourselves against the threats, overt or covert, that cast death’s dark shadow over us.
In such times the psalmist comes to mind. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” I will buy no food insurance. I will buy no gun. To do so is to run straight into the arms of death as a living power that robs us of life’s goodness and meaning.
“Man’s self-absorption is the movement of our flight from death,” writes Sebastian Moore OSB. “This is what is meant by the scripture’s description of man as ‘under the shadow of death’. It does not mean ‘man knowing he will die’ but ‘what man does and becomes under this knowledge.’. It is not to our mortality, our animality, that scripture offers a remedy. It is to the death that we become in our self-absorption. It is to what we allow death to become in us by fleeing from it in the hopeless pride of man.” (The Crucified Jesus Is No Stranger, Paulist Press, 1977)
I turn off the radio. I dial back the passion. I interrupt the contagion of fear by repeating an old psalm, and drive over to the community food pantry to volunteer.
It behooves each of us to consider how we contribute to the fear panic. Or maybe the question is how can we contribute to the assumption that life is a journey leading to the ultimate blessing, whatever it may be, at the end of this life. Maybe it will be just a nice deep sleep,or a happy reunion with family and friends, or a joining of the love beyond all imagining that some have described in near death experiences.
I certainly don’t know. I don’t think any of us knows, but I’m pretty sure living this life with grace, love and productivity leaves one feeling at the end that it was worth it.
If there is a hell, you tapped into it in that radio broadcast that interfered with your peace, and in your decision to go volunteer.
Mona, it does so behoove us. And the five minutes of radio was a dip into hell that fear and fear-mongering create. As you say, each of us is on a journey, in process, being transformed and transforming, if we are alive at all to life’s wonders and cruelties. Bonhoeffer in his Letters and Papers from Prison describes “learning to take life in its stride.” I’ve always rather like that, though I’m still not sure exactly what it means. I think he was referring to the center of peace that endures in the worst of life’s storms, which is also the center from which comes the courage to resist the onslaught of fear and death.
Thank you as usual. I have never understood how people who claim to have great faith can be so driven by fear. Fear often seems like the excuse to draw on our mean side. Either there is such a thing as being in God’s merciful loving care, or there isn’t. Susan
Susan, thanks for the encouragement. Yes. Hope you’re indoors in the quiet of your home.