Wednesday, May 5, 2010

from the HT e-news this week, by yours truly

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. John 14:27.

I was a fearful child. All through those days, I carried an internal list of scary things, things that could hurt me—fires, burglars, snakes, spiders, hippies who might kidnap me—and at night my terrors unspooled into a long litany of prayers to a God who was something like a Grandpa with special powers.

A few years later, my fears found their perch as my family’s life unraveled into a tangle of alcohol and estrangement. I don’t remember if I prayed, but I learned to escape to the tree fort I’d inherited from my older brothers. Inside the kitchen, my mother poured out half her soda, filled the can back up with scotch, while I sat at the edge, legs dangling. Counting one – two – three – all the way to ten, and still I couldn’t jump. So I’d close my eyes and pick a color and vow that the instant I saw that color, I would do it.


I opened my eyes and my gaze caught sun firing the taillight of the horse trailer. I launched myself into space, dropping the ten feet to the ground, and landing in a good six inches of dried, musty manure. Then, I’d climb back up and do it again, and again, and again, each time pinning my fear to a place deep inside.

I’ve since been told that the image of a little girl leaping into a pile of horse shit does not make a particularly poetic metaphor. But looking back I understand what this otherwise anxious child was doing. She was toughening herself up, working her fear like a muscle, transforming it into something known and controlled.

In my teens, and again in my twenties, that illusion of control would shatter like tired bone. What I didn’t know then: any muscle, overdeveloped, can become a hindrance, a constant strain on the balance of the body or the soul.

What that little girl needed—and couldn’t get—was the gentle refrain in our Gospels: do not be afraid. It’s everywhere. We hear it from Jesus, and from the mouths of angels reassuring the lonely, the lost, the bewildered. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

The human heart is a muscle like any other. Overworked by high blood pressure, the muscle thickens. Enlarged and stiffened, it can’t move blood like it’s supposed to. It no longer fulfills the very purpose for which it was designed.

Not so different from our selves, how our essence changes as we toughen ourselves to abandonment, confusion, tragedy, judgment—all those things that make us afraid. It’s a small step from becoming strong to being hard and brittle. In our efforts to be invulnerable we can impair the very muscles God has given us for the care of one another—empathy, tenderness, compassion. In our attempts at self-protection we fail in our one purpose: to love God and one another.

Jesus offers us a different way, a different peace. This peace is not won by being smart, self-protective, or tough—by a reliance on the self. The peace of Jesus requires a counterintuitive letting go—a leap into the unknown of love. For how many of us truly know the depths of God’s love. Instead of girding ourselves against loss, he asks us to make ourselves vulnerable—to him and to one another. This is how we learn not be afraid.

No comments:

Post a Comment