“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.