Shedding Light on Fear
Sunday afternoon, we did the same thing we did last year on January 6th.
The twelve days of Christmas were over and Epiphany had arrived.
We took down the wreaths and the Christmas tree and put away all the decorations.
I didn’t have any expectations about the date. A friend at church remembered the date and I was touched by that; but with the trial and my ‘redemption walk’ behind me I had not given much thought to whether or how to acknowledge the day. After the last trip to the attic with a box of ornaments, I decided to lie down and rest. About that time two text messages came, one from a friend and another from my daughter, remembering that one year ago on this date and at this hour I was out walking and was attacked from behind.
After more than a week of rain and gray skies, it seemed as if even the weather knew what it was supposed to do on this day of light and clarity.
The slant of the afternoon sun, fatigue from poor sleep the night before, and the rhythm of doing exactly what I was doing on this day last year just before it happened, all converged to nudge me toward silence and stillness. I needed to pause and reflect for a few minutes and let myself feel whatever might be inside.
I lit a candle and turned on some music, monks chanting the Psalms, and then I just lay there as the daylight faded and listened. I felt the tears of release wanting to fall and I let them. Some were tears of gratitude: remembering good neighbors who were listening and came running when I screamed, remembering my husband and daughter and friends who tenderly cared for me in those first few hours and days. I offered thanks for a good counselor who was trained in EMDR and how he has helped me process this event this year.
I let myself grieve that it happened in the first place, and grieve that it will happen to others and so will a host of other painful things. This world is broken. I let myself cry about that.
I’d seen tears in the eyes of a friend earlier in the day and told her about a book recommended to me after my attack called The Gift of Fear. In short, it’s about learning to trust your instincts and read the clues. But the title intrigues me on a deeper level: Perhaps, fear, in addition to being used as a tool to nudge us towards awareness, is a gift to us because it is a gateway to Christ’s presence.
“Fear not,” the Bible says. Angels say it when they arrive with messages and Jesus says it to his followers - usually at a time when it seems quite logical to be fearful - like a heavenly being showing up with a message about your future or inside a tomb where you expected to find a corpse or when your boat is about to capsize in a storm at sea. How can we ‘not fear’? The only thing I can figure out is this: We call it what it is: fear. We name it in the presence of the Only One who can conquer it.
I find myself forgetting that “Fear Not” is always followed by “I am with you” or a proclamation or promise of what God will do . So often I try to cover fear with false confidence or even anger. Sometimes we misuse good things like boundaries in relationships, work, spending, entertainment, prescriptions, food and drink. Any of those gifts can become a place of inordinate attention to keep us from feeling such a vulnerable emotion as fear.
At first I didn’t want to let myself cry yesterday. I wasn’t sure what the emotion underneath was. But after some stillness and silence, I realized there were vestiges of fear and anxiety in the corners of my body along with gratitude.
“It’s been a year!” the soul bullies started. “People expect you to be OK by now!” “It wasn’t that bad!” Those voices, as logical as they may sound, are straight from the pit. Here’s why: They’re pushing me toward self-sufficiency, self-reliance, even pride.
Not all soul bullies sound negative, their tone can be deceptively positive: “Look at you! You are all healed and whole and not afraid anymore.” But that bears examining because the soul bully often says things that are ‘almost true’ - which makes them lies. If I start to think I’m OK because of my hard work, then all I’ve done is trade fear for pride.
The only sense in which I am healed and whole is because I am embraced and carried and always held by the arms of Jesus. My healing depends on remembering that fact. Walking through Advent, Christmas and Epiphany remind me I am human. I need Jesus. I will always need Him. He became Incarnate for that reason.
Until I cross over from this life to the next, I will carry memories, emotions and thoughts that can take me in any direction in any given moment - toward or away from Him. I will always need to examine, to pause in the stillness and silence, and show my fears, my grief, or my pride to Him, remembering that He is always present to me.
Naming the fear or grief or pride - whatever it is - becomes a gateway. In that moment, when I call the emotion what it is in the presence of Christ, the soul bully shuts up. Truth wins. Epiphany has come. The light is shining and, clearly, we see.