The Antidote to Fear

Dear Friends,

The link below is an invitation to something short and simple. It is 10 minutes of the NPR radio show This American Life. During these 10 minutes, actor Tom Wright reads a list of fears written by a developmentally disabled man named Michael Bernard Loggins.

When you listen to this list of fears, even though Michael Bernard Loggins' fears might be completely different than your own, a commonality will form between you and Michael. There will be a bond between you and this person whom you’ve never met. The bond is a common humanity in which we all have fears. Some of his fears will make you smile. Some will make you fearful too. You might even feel like you want to take some of his fears away.

After posting my last blog, I realized that in writing about fear, I never once mentioned love. There is really only one antidote to fear – the deepest kind of human fear about ourselves and others – and it is love. St. Maximilian Kolbe said, “Love alone creates.” Love alone creates peace. Love alone rebuilds and heals. Love alone restores life.

Love is the balm of Gilead, the balm to soothe every fear, spoken or unspoken, listed or unlisted. May love be the balm of this nation as we take a long hard look at fear that has devolved into hate.

I hope you will take 10 minutes to listen to the piece linked below. Fear will not have the last word, as long as we have each other.

Amy

Click here to listen to the excerpt of This American Life.

Note: This American Life typically runs several stories (or "acts") on the same theme in each show. This Michael Bernard Loggins piece is sandwiched in the middle of Show 234 entitled “Say Anything,” so you will listen to the "second act" (from about 33:00 to 44:00). Just click the play arrow under the picture of people talking, and the show will automatically start in the right spot.

My husband and my daughter, 2011.

My husband and my daughter, 2011.

I Cannot Be Destroyed

“Daddy, what is your worst-est fear?”

Just a bit of background: both of my sons are very interested in ninjas, and ninjas ask these kinds of things. And because ninjas never give up, Eli waited patiently as my husband considered whether or not to reveal his deepest fear to a five-year-old. The young ninja finally offered a helpful suggestion:

“Is it being destroyed?”

I heard about this completely one-sided conversation when I arrived home. My husband never answered Eli’s question – but I suppose there’s no reason to when your five-year-old has already successfully identified every human being’s greatest fear.

Fear of being destroyed.

I’ve been told that when you’re dying, you don’t want things sugar-coated. You don’t want surface-level nonsense that sounds good but gets you nowhere. You want to talk about death. You want to talk about being destroyed. You want to know what it’s really about – what’s going to happen, how it’s going to be, how you’ll accept it. In the Church we talk about the “last things” – death, judgment, heaven, hell. You want to know what those things mean.

One of the great personal creeds of Scripture is that stubborn declaration of Job: “I know that my Redeemer lives.” It’s worth noting that Job says this almost immediately after declaring that God “breaks me down on every side, and I am gone, he has uprooted my hope like a tree” (Job 19:10, 25).

People of faith – we believe that we cannot be destroyed. To destroy is to cause something to come to an end, to cease to exist. God may break us down. We may feel lost or gone. Our hope will come and go. But we cannot be destroyed (cf. 2 Cor. 4:9; 5:1). As Job declares, I will see God: I will see for myself, my own eyes, not another’s, will see him (Job 19:26-27).

 I can’t think of anything harder than being a human being. Destruction hangs around us in so many ways, so many areas of our lives. We are strong, but we are so fragile. It isn’t just physical destruction we fear but mental, emotional, spiritual, financial, relational, national, natural and even ecclesial. We won’t escape destructive experiences. We know that, we who know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2).

But I hope you will say it with me, Job’s creed: I cannot be destroyed. Because my redeemer lives. I will see for myself, my own eyes will see him. My inmost being is consumed with longing (Job 19:25-27).

The little ninja.

The little ninja.

When I Seem to Be Talking about Lakes

It says something deep and real about us, and our capacity to understand each other so deeply, that words can only hint at what I mean.
— Brian Doyle (1956-2017), "The Lakes"

I was surprised and sad to read in the July 10 issue of America that Brian Doyle died of brain cancer at the young age of 60. Doyle was an essayist and author who has been described as “unabashedly Catholic.” Not a bad way to be remembered, friends.

Every time I read something Brian wrote, I remembered it. One short piece in particular has stayed with me. I’d like to share it with you here in memory of his good work and unabashed Catholicism. It wasn’t in-your-face. It just got into your mind.

Please click here to read Brian Doyle’s essay “The Lakes” at commonwealmagazine.org

Brian Doyle wrote that Jesus "haunts the edges of my dreams."

Brian Doyle wrote that Jesus "haunts the edges of my dreams."

When Your Parish Is Closing and Your Heart Is Breaking

Here in the Northeast, as in other parts of the country, the Catholic Church is in transition. In my own Archdiocese of Hartford, many parishes are closing. We have fewer priests, but we also have fewer Catholics. Closing or merging one hundred parishes allows us to band together in the parishes that remain – to worship, to learn, and to be together in larger, more robust communities.

But this transition does not come without controversy and heartache. I am familiar with both. I grew up in an Episcopal parish, and the church building itself was my second home. Besides the usual liturgies and classes and youth groups, I often went there after school and did my homework. I stayed for evening prayer in the chapel. I knew the people. I was comfortable there and welcome. But all of this changed while I was in high school. Two of our priests and many families in the parish (including my own), struck out on a new adventure: we were going to become Catholics. But this meant leaving my parish, my home. It meant leaving something so beautiful and familiar to me.

I know how you feel.

The thought of never seeing that crucifix again, or walking the path of those stations, or hearing that organ, broke my heart. There would be other crucifixes and stations. There would be other organs. But there would not be that one. The thought of never sitting in that garden, or kneeling in that confessional, or laughing with a friend in that kitchen, broke my heart. There would be other kitchens and confessionals. There would be other gardens. But there would not be that one.

Places can start to fit you, like comfortable clothes. You know how the place feels. You know what happened there.  You happened there. You planted those flowers. You sorted those cans in the parish food pantry. You drank coffee there. You took communion there. You made friends and had life-changing conversations and prayed and worshiped there. You gazed out that window and sat in that chapel and lit those candles. You learned, and questioned, and accepted. That place was where you became a Christian.

Don’t let anyone tell you that buildings don’t matter. Of course they don’t matter as much as people and communities do. Of course they don’t matter as much as your faith and your beliefs do. Of course they don’t matter as much as your resilience and your resolve do. But they do matter. And losing them is like losing a friend, or a loved one, or a beautiful memory.

And so it is natural, and normal, and even necessary, to grieve and to be sad. But in this grief, do not go your own way. In this grief, turn back to your community. Turn back to your Church. Turn back toward your people, and not away by yourself.  Find the thing that grew in your heart as you lived and breathed in that building. The thing that grew in you was love. This is the precious piece, the piece you must take with you to your new home, your new building. 

For there are many gifts that human beings are given, and many attitudes that we may choose to adopt.  But there is only one that always heals and points forward. There is only one that always brings peace, even if that peace takes time. That gift, that attitude, is love. Of all the gifts our parish communities can have – all the charisms, programs, ministries and funds – there is none so great and so necessary as love. Greater even than working miracles, or leading or teaching, greater even than prophecy.  Naming these fine things, St. Paul wrote, “But I will show you a still more excellent way.”  This most excellent way is love – patient and kind, not insisting on its own way, not resenting. Love bears all things, believes all things, endures all things, hopes all things. Love never ends.

We will mourn what we leave behind. But we will go forward with our love for one another still intact. And by this love, they will know that we are Christians.

Jesus the Good Shepherd by Maurice Denis (1903). Courtesy Sacred Art Pilgrim. Jesus does not wish to lose a single sheep. 

Jesus the Good Shepherd by Maurice Denis (1903). Courtesy Sacred Art Pilgrim. Jesus does not wish to lose a single sheep. 

A Noise Like a Strong Driving Wind?

This Sunday is Pentecost, the day when we recall the dramatic outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the first followers of Jesus. This year as I reflected on the story from Acts, I was struck by the powerful images – the sights and sounds that accompanied this outpouring – especially how the Spirit is described as sounding like “a strong driving wind” (NABRE) or like “the rush of a violent wind” (NRSV; Acts 2:2).

We often experience the voice of God in our lives as a quiet thing – a still small voice, a whisper, a stirring of the heart, or the murmurings of conscience. And it is often a slow communication – a voice that speaks in layers as time passes, a message that takes hold slowly over the course of many years.

But the Pentecost story reminds us of other ways that God communicates. Sometimes the divine voice is loud, powerful, fast and laser-like in its precision. The NRSV’s word “violent” lingers here – not violence in the sense of harming anyone – but violent in the sense of strong enough to wreak havoc on our minds and hearts, wild enough to unsettle or even unseat us. Of course the goal of this unsettling is not ultimately turmoil but healing and life. God speaks in mysterious ways!

Will you share with me what the voice of God sounds like in your life? Is it a gentle whisper or a strong driving wind? Is there a metaphor that comes to mind to describe your own experience?

I’d love to hear from you – as a comment directly on the blog page, or as a reply to email if you receive the blog that way, or as a facebook comment if you are reading there.

Happy Pentecost!

Untitled by Kim Young Gil (1940-2008)

Untitled by Kim Young Gil (1940-2008)