Sunday, December 14, 2014

2014.12.14 Fear Not . . .But . . .

The phrase most frequently repeated in the New Testament is “Fear not,” or some version thereof. I find the phrase a comforting half-truth. Of course we have fear, and the wise writers of scripture acknowledge our fear, yet “fear not” is not a condemnation but a consolation.

Being able to feel fear is healthy. Like pain, fear tells us, that something is threatening, something is amiss.  Fear can be a motivator. It shoves us into action, often with great courage—not to erase fear, but to refuse to let it dominate our psyche and soul, to refuse to let it paralyze us. 

When fear dominates we can not hear the Word of God inside us, nor can we listen well to our own good sense or the counsel, or even love, of others.  When the disciples felt afraid they either went into high-gear military mode (let’s fight to kill) or they fell asleep (let’s refuse to acknowledge that there is danger, let’s take care of it tomorrow.)

Ironically, Jesus Christ presented a real trauma (something over which you have no control happens to you that scares and scars you, almost to death) to the world in which he lived, and taught, and healed, and died, and was resurrected. He scared the living hell out of them with his gospel. Jesus advertised a God who could reverse the worst of human conditions by the power of Love.

Jesus trusted the God he proclaimed, yet he was not free of fear; in fact, according to the accounts of the New Testament gospel writers, he sweated it out in the garden of Gethsemane where he prayed fervently just scant days before he would be arrested and executed. What made Jesus different, and therefore irresistible—followable—was that he did not succumb to terror’s paralysis. He was neither free of fear, nor naive to its effects, both internally and externally. Terror was all around. He just did not let it cause a mental, emotional or spiritual blackout!
Fear not is a prayer.

Jessica Stern, in her 2010 memoir,  Denial. A Memoir of Terror, relates her own experience of  the terror and trauma of rape. She writes about the disturbing side effects of trauma: “Denying one’s fear makes it possible to survive a life-threatening event but also impairs the capacity to feel fear and worse still, impairs the ability to love.”

I think this is why Jesus Christ spoke of love and fear in almost the same breath. It’s so easy for Christians to deny and push away the fear in our story. In Advent we want to jump into Christmas jollity. In Lent we want to leap into Easter joy. My God, you can hear Christmas jingles blasting in gas stations as you pump your gas. Ick! This is why Advent is important. It reminds us of the dark side of our world. The only way we can feel the love, is if we also can feel fear.

In Easter images that depict Christ resurrected, the wounds from his cricifixion are always pictured. Without them it wouldn't be a true image. The wounds of Christ survive biological death!

Do Christ's wounds also survive biological birth? Are the wounds present from the beginning? I've never seen an artistic rendering of the manger scene with wounds on the infant Christ, have you?   That would be too much, no? Symbolic crucifixion marks on a newborn, the wounds of human mortality on divinity from the beginning? Way too frightening! Or not..........