Fear Not. These words may sound familiar to you if you were raised in the Christian Tradition. The Shepherds are abiding in the fields keeping watch over their flocks by night. Suddenly, an angel appears. The shepherds are afraid. Because they are afraid, I’m going to assume that they do what I do when I’m afraid – they overeat and watched bad television.
But wait, the story doesn’t stop with their fear. The angel says, “Put down that peanut butter, put down that remote. Fear not, for behold I bring you glad tidings of great joy.” The angel tells them of the re-birth of the Christ Consciousness – and the shepherds drop the remote control and powerwalk to Bethlehem.
Richard Rohr says that the most common one-liner in the bible is “do not be afraid.” Someone counted and it occurs 365 times. Rumi writes “every day we wake up empty and frightened.” Upon hearing these things, I ask “Have Rumi and the authors of the bible been reading my diary? Or are they reading the collective diary written by humanity on the blank screen of existence?” Metaphorically speaking, probably yes.
Fear is a common condition. Denial of fear is also a common condition. The other day while chatting with someone, and I said, “I don’t know why I’m so exhausted. I mean I’m only running a church during a global pandemic.”
Only a global pandemic. How easy it is to minimize something major for all of us who stagger around with undiagnosed cases of pandemic fatigue, perhaps feeling crushed by a heavy blanket of uncertainty. And how odd, that we often minimize challenges in the name of faith. We minimize something major to demonstrate how spiritual we are. And yet, at the same time, we know that God is bigger. In the eyes of God, maybe it is “only a global pandemic.” So what is this thing? Is it big or is it small? Yes.
How do we find a balance? How do we move consciously and kindly through these interesting times? How do we hold our humanity and divinity like notes in the same chord? How do we re-write the scriptures that say Fear Not into – it’s okay to acknowledge fear, but we don’t have to let it swallow us. How do we learn to work with fear in a constructive way so that it transforms the necessities of vulnerability and impermanence into blessings that transcend human understanding?
The other day, I read a parable, a Jewish teaching story. Paraphrased, it goes like this: There was once a man who aspired to be a great archer. He practiced and practiced yet still was not as good as he wanted to be. In his quest for greatness, several people told him of a Master Archer. The people said, “This Master Archer hit bullseyes 100% of the time.”
“Wow,” said the man. “I want to be like that.” He went on a quest to find this great archer. He walked through a forest. There, he began noticing arrows in bullseyes on the trees, more and more the deeper he went. Finally, he came to a clearing and found a red barn. On the side of the barn was a row of targets, each with an arrow perfectly centered. “This must be the place,” he said. And lo, a man came out of the barn. The man on a quest said, “Are you the Master Archer.” The Master said, “yes, I am.”
“Please,” the seeker said, “how do you do it? Can you teach me to be a master like you?” The master replied, “It’s easy. Here’s what I do: I shoot the arrow into a tree or the side of barn. Then I get some paint. I paint the target around where the arrow has landed.”
I think in this teaching story, the arrow represents our thought, our perception. We shoot an arrow of thought into the universe, and it lands somewhere… and then, based on our perception, we draw a reality around it. We see what we believe. And – this is important – we call it bullseye. We say, yes, I am in the center of truth because it’s in the center of what I see, the center of reality, right? No… we are in the center of the reality we have constructed. The thought comes first, and we build a reality around it to support the position of the thought.
It helps to be mindful of the arrows of perception we send out. In times like this, we can choose to send out arrows of fear and construct a target around it and say, you see, I’m right, it’s terrifying here, I’m a bullseye in the center of this reality of fear. Or we can send out arrows of faith and love. And if we send out arrows of faith and love, the reality surrounding us will change.
How do we do this when there seems to be so much evidence FOR fear and so much evidence AGAINST love?
Sometimes, in times of fear, I turn to nature for guidance. A couple of weeks ago, I bought an amaryllis bulb. I planted it, watered it, and put it on a little altar that I have in my house, next to a cross, some candles, and a dog collar. Then I waited for it to grow.
The little stinker didn’t want to budge. So I blamed nature, thinking that the bulb was defective. Then I blamed myself. I am a notorious killer of plants, a plant serial killer if you will. So I ferreted around in my busy mind to consider what I must have done wrong. Too much water, not enough light. Then, a still small voice, that is still small btw, whispered in my ear and said, “Why don’t you try patience? Have a little faith. Nature knows what she is doing.”
I waited, I watched, and I prayed. Not for nature to change but for me to change my relationship with nature. “We don’t change reality, we change our position in it,” says Ernest Holmes. We slow down, trust, fear not, or if we fear, we don’t give it a lot of power. The bulb grew. It was sneaky. It grew while I wasn’t looking. It grew some more and then it bloomed. Bright red hope that ignored my sea of doubt and fear.
Nature will ultimately triumph. If things don’t seem to be evolving or growing up to speed – whether it’s a personal issue, a global pandemic that just won’t quit, or our own relationship with our perceived shortcomings, with our fears and our lack of faith — it’s certainly okay to ask, is there something I could do differently? Can I participate in the solution? There is often something to be done.
But it’s equally important to wait. To watch and pray. To observe our fear and refrain from giving it too much power. To move at the speed of nature. Love the process. Love yourself in the process. Allow nature to be nature and allow God to be God. Ultimately, because all things bend to the arc of greater good, there will be growth, peace, and healing. Fear not.
Rumi tells us that the body is like Mary, and God needs to be born in each of us. God can be born in the peak moments, yes. But more often, God is born in the innocence of our day-to-day tasks, our lives, and most particularly in the places where we feel stuck. There we get to labor to acknowledge fear, but also give birth to love in the midst of fear.
We might ask ourselves, in this moment, will I send out an arrow of fear or an arrow of love? I think it’s safe to say that when we choose love, we cooperate with the greater good, the Christ Consciousness which is another name for wholeness, that wants to be born in each of us, in all the duties and details of our lives. It could be love for ourselves. It could be gentleness, patience, acts of kindness for others. It could be acknowledging the love that is sometimes hidden. But love always wants to be born. Love wants to love.
Some may ask, “Is it enough? Will tiny arrows of love make a difference when there is so much pain in the world?” To that I would say, small acts are something. And in the mind of the mystic, in the mind of love, there is no size, there is no large or small. In the mind of the mystic, something and everything are one. And so it is.
This is a transcript from a Sunday Message at the Ventura Center for Spiritual Living.