Lately one of the feelings that comes up for me over and over is fear: fear of failure, fear of success, fear of commitment, fear of rejection, fear of uncertainty, fear of certainty. You’ll notice that all of those fears are antonymous word pairs, and that is quite deliberate. The funny thing about fear is that it’s not entirely rational, it rarely functions along the lines of logic, and when it does, it’s often a hyper-logic of sorts that it seems to stem from.
Fear is a powerful force upon the psyche, and many people know this and in fact use it to their own advantage. Playing off people’s fears is a powerful way to exert dominating and controlling power over another person or group of people. Our mass media are full of stories inciting fear about everything from our drinking water to the safety of public transit, stories that amass to create a culture of fear.
Much of this fear seems to stem from a deep mistrust of the world as it is. People of my generation especially have been taught to not trust the world, and the reality that surrounds us seems to reinforce this teaching. AIDS, environmental crises, overpopulation, economic instability – all of these have been active in the world for my entire life, I have known no other world than one that is seemingly inhospitable and even hostile.
But is this the reality of how the world is, or is this mistrust merely a matter of perception? “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow;” says Jesus, according to Matthew 6:28, “they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.” The lilies do not fear to grow, neither do the blades of grass that push through concrete or the salmon that fearlessly swim home every year. There may be things to fear in our world, but faith teaches us to trust, even in uncertainty. The earth itself teaches us to trust. “It is true that sin is the cause of all this pain,” says Julian of Norwich in her Showings, “but all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well.”
Underneath and inside and beyond the pain, all shall be well, and that is why we need to entrust ourselves into living lives beyond our fears. “In our culture of fear,” says Vancouver Sun columnist Douglas Todd in a recent article, “staying calm amounts to a political act.”Being calm, centred, non-anxious presences in the world is perhaps the most profound calling that people of faith can live out in this time.
I deal with fears by reminding myself that often what scares me most also excites, exhilarates, thrills me – “roller-coaster-fear” is what I call it. I love roller coasters because of the adrenaline rush from fear and excitement.When I remind mysef of just how enjoyable it can be to take a risk and entrust myself to life, in spite of how scary it also is, I find it easier to step forward into uncertainty.