Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Lent, Fear & Love

“I can’t sleep.”
“I know,” I sighed, sitting next to Jake’s bed, “I can tell.”
“I was quiet.”  I nod.  “I didn’t turn the big light on.”  More nods.
Pause.  “So how did you know?”
“Well, I could hear you worrying.”  “I wasn’t!  I—” 
“AND..I could hear you counting.”  Silence.

“Was it too big?”  Jake holds his blue blanket a bit tighter.  His eyes are huge; his knuckles don’t have the impressions of babyhood in them anymore.  He’s growing up—and his worries are getting bigger too.  It’s a mark of change that I just wish wasn’t.

I sit and we talk for awhile.  Whatever is bothering him cannot be rushed out.  For this child, things eat deep, take root and remain.  He gives them foundation and room when he shouldn’t, he fills in blanks that should still be unknown.  Jake, a thousand years soul, has allowed fear a voice far too early. 

Eventually, whatever is claiming his heart for the moment cannot compete with heavy eyelids or the even snore of his brother just nearby.  He surrenders in sleep, but I have no doubt he’ll wake up with it again.  And there may be a new branch or leaf that’s grown on that awful tree. 

LoveFeast Shop Driftwood Heart
Photo credit: Myquillyn Smith from the Nesting Place

As I get up, knees popping and an unease that somehow I haven’t done my job prickling my neck, I look around at the familiar—a picture of my mother near him, his stuffed Scooby sitting guard, the Bible that lays open at the story we had read earlier, his own copy of Harry’s first adventure just behind, and then I see hanging in kneeling reach, his calendar; each day either crossed out or marked in some way with his own cipher of important facts.  Lent is coming.

This week marks the beginning of Lent, Ash Wednesday.  On the 10th we stop and reflect.  And often, popular (sometimes parody) cultural leaning uses Lent as a time to “give up” something we use, need, want in order to use that time of habit and desire to reflect on God, and specifically, Christ’s passion.    This week’s end also marks Valentine’s Day.  On the 14th we stop and celebrate our love, and again, popular culture concentrates primarily on romantic love rather than any other kind.  Leaving those who aren’t in that secure circle (however real or false that may be) out in the proverbial cold sparking an anti-love sentiment of “who needs it anyway?”

It’s been interesting for me to see these two events coincide on my calendar.  And it has made me think carefully about the intersectory point between them.  What makes them collude?  What makes them separate?  What compels and what negates?  Strangely and profoundly, what circles back again and again for me is what has taken the imagination of a 6 year old and held him fast.  Because it seems that marked underneath both ideas—the repulsion and attraction— is fear. 

And that needs to change.

While Jake’s fears are sometimes small, his worry of people and places not known to him is large.  He fears for the safety of young children in countries he’s only read about.  He fears that he will never, ever have a dog.  He fears that he won’t pass his spelling test because he keeps forgetting to drop the “y” in favor of an “iest” and will never be “happiest” because of it.  He fears that Api won’t know him the next time he comes.  He fears that he will never lose his teeth; that he has no real friends, that his mommy is so tired, and that his daddy is tense.  He fears that he’ll be picked last.  He fears that no one will remember to give shelter to the old man he saw in the park. “It’s too cold for him to be there,” he said quietly.  Jake has fear.  Some of it I can assuage.  But only some.

Right now I feel like I’m living in a vacuum of fear.  Fear is driving political rhetoric to extremes.  While that seems to peak every year, locally or nationally, its resonance with people right now seems to be at an all time high.  Fear’s discord, its very lack of harmony, is incredibly deep.  The voices that offer it may be of a few, but the vein of antipathy it has tapped into is, it appears, limitless.  Every time I have listened to the news or read the paper, looked on social media and seen the endless posts by
friends, or tried otherwise to understand with my
head to the ground to identify the underbeat present in what I was seeing, hearing, reading; every time I have done so, I have felt it, the curling shimmy of it.  It’s unmistakable.  Fear curls around us as airless and volatile as toxic mist. It invades us, we breathe it in and we breathe it out into the world.  It is everywhere.

It looks so different depending on who we are and where we are in our lives.  It could be the fear of rejection.  Fear of not having a child.  Fear of not liking the child you have.  Fear of being alone.  Fear of not being loved.  Fear of not loving enough.  Fear of not losing.  Fear of not finishing.  Fear of aging. Fear of test results.  Fear that you are not smart enough.  Fear of comparison. Fear that you aren’t enough.  The fear of being lost.

The fear of being found.

We cater to fear in a way that we do not, as a society, honor love.  Popular shows and themes run on fear and all of its ancillaries like comparison or ridicule…you know the list.  And if this is what we orbit around, if fear is what motivates us and informs our movements then how will we ever teach our children where to step and what to reach for?

Into this space, at this time, in this place, I find Lent a respite.  I’ve said before that I am no theologian.  My Christian faith has been hard and singularly fought (and there are days I struggle more, much much more than others).  My Catholic practice has been an additional key in unlocking meaning for me in it.  But I am not here to tell you how to worship—that my faith practice, my denominational choice is somehow better than your own.  My interest is not in how you worship as much as it is what you’ve learned.  Human hands alone, not divine ones, make our divisions. 

But what can change this?  When I was young, even as an adult, I would confide just like Jake in my mother.  Placing my fear on her.  Believing that she could lift it.  Her reply was always the same, “Pray.  Take it to God.”  I used to get irritated at her piety.  I felt it was a ruse of some kind.  No one could be that believing, that faithful; no one could fix what was broken with me or in me. 

As I have gotten older and clumsier, loved and lost, I can see where she was right.  Because the God I know, the God I believe in, his love transcends all. 
Because of that, I believe that God can render fear of all kinds silent.   So this Lent I want to engage differently.  I’m not giving up dessert or social media, this time I want to consciously let fear go. 

Whatever it is that is harboring in my heart that is making me tired or worn out.  What is making me less likely to tell you when I am hurting…what is making me less than what or who I should be.  I want to let it go.

Fear is anathema to love.  But its presence is pervasive.  And it is difficult to remove.  I’m giving up my fear for Lent.  From the small to the large, working from the outside in.  But I don’t think, I mean, I know I cannot do it alone. 
Jesus couldn’t accomplish his ministry by himself.  Yes, he had God.  But he also had his friends.  His friends who bore witness to his miracles, and who, I am sure, comforted him when he was weary.  “Where two or three people gather in my name, I am there with them” (Matthew 18:20).

I wonder what would happen if we all let go of our fear?  If we allowed love to stay in its stead?  How powerful of a barrier to what fear has so insistently crossed would that be?  If we only could speak together with love secured, rather than divided in fear’s grip.

I have written before of Bible studies I have done with Love God Greatly.  One of them occurred last year on the theme of community.  One moment in that study came back to me as I was thinking about this, about Lent: about love and what it would take to withstand fear.  Exodus 17:12 “When Moses’ arms got tired, Aaron and Hur got a stone and put it under him. Then he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held up his hands. Aaron was on one side, and Hur was on the other. Moses’ hands remained steady until sunset.

My observation of the verse came from historical understanding, namely that it was taking place as the children of Israel were on their way to Mt. Sinai. They were tired and worn down, ripe for attack from the Amalekites who harassed caravans passing through.  Moses instructs Joshua to fight while he prays.  Modern prayer means heads bowed, ancient prayer was standing, hands and face and eyes lifted heavenward.  A difficult position to hold for the length of a battle.

I think that is what this is for me, a battle against fear.  Without the help of Aaron and Hur, Moses may not have been able to persevere in prayer.  In the image of them supporting his arms, we have crucifixion.  Christ embodied.  Together in standing unified in exhaustion, in the face of fear, we have the body of Christ.  Only love can lift you, fear will weigh you down.

Yet, to stay small in my fear is comfortable.  I know it.  It knows me.  It knows every crack and crevice.  It knows the darkness I carry.  It wants to keep me there, in the shadow, tucked away from any kind of hope.  These days of Lent think of what you fear, from the small to the large.  Consider them, and decide to confront them—and make the choice, the amazingly conscious choice to walk without it.  Your acts of rebellion against the world’s pressure to stay hidden and protected from the unknown will give you the ability to take fresh breath, to see with clarity, to focus with fresh eyes with the hope that has been paid for you. 

Because this generous God, this God who wants you so desperately, he doesn’t need your avoidance of chocolate, of social media, your disavowal of television for 40 days.  He has been waiting for you all the months prior to this; he is waiting for you now.  He will take it all.  Only his shoulders are broad enough to take on your fear.  You can release it.  You can give it to him.  The more you give up your fear, the more room you will have in your heart for love.  And the more love you have the more you have to give away.  And that, I am convinced of it, that is the only way to conquer fear….

It’s a lesson I hope to dig deep into Jake.  So that the reservoir of hope contradicts any darkness.  I believe it can happen.  I have to try, and I have to start with me.  So this Lent, please join me.  I will need your strength to hold me up.  Let us let go of fear.  Burn it.  In its rebirth, in its resurrection, let there be courage and faith, hope and love.  Let us proclaim the glory of resurrection with courage.  Unified in great courage.

What are you going to give up into?  In the ashes, what will you discover?  Will you allow me to hold you up as you face it?   This Lent the only thing we need to give up is fear.  Let it render into ash.  And let that ash reveal your love and beauty, your courage and your grace.  I will be praying for you.  Peace be with you.  

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