God’s Dream and Our Fear

Adapted from my newsletter column to the church this week at www.vhbc.com:

As I was looking over past writings and came upon this one, from 1994. It still seems useful for now.

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

The problem of life is not faith, but fear.  Fear of failure can paralyze a talented person from ever trying.  The fear of success can explain why many equally-talented people seem to sabotage themselves just on the brink of success or achievement.  Psychologists tell us that fear is the root of much procrastination in the perfectionist who can never begin the task until she is a little better prepared.

Fear can keep us silent in the face of evil when we should have spoken.  It is the fear of change that paralyzes our wills and reduces life to discontented mumbling against fate rather than risking ourselves to move forward.  The fear of death can turn us hollow and brittle, fearful of a garymisstep and terrified of suffering.  Fear grants a thousand deaths to a cowering heart.

Change, all change, brings fear with it.  Transitions surpass our past copings and leave us exposed and vulnerable.  We are once again where we find ourselves continually in life: thrown back on our wits and facing the unknown.

Every day, every week, we are facing changes as individuals, as the church, as families.  The creative possibility is that in the face of change we will choose with courageous faith to trust God’s new life through us rather than fear.

Parker Palmer says that “the core message of all the great spiritual traditions is ‘Be not afraid’…the failure is to withdraw fearfully from the place to which one is called, to squander the most precious of all our birthrights–the experience of aliveness itself.”[1]

As we look at the world around us, it is not a brilliant observation to see that we are in a time of suspicion, distrust and unkindness. The cheapness of life, the anger and fear of our culture, and the rampant selfishness of too many is easy to see. But what to do about Continue reading “God’s Dream and Our Fear”

Where Were You When President Kennedy Was Shot?

 It rolled at you across the land at 1800 miles per hour, hauling darkness like plague behind it….we saw the wall of shadow coming, and screamed before it hit.   

Annie Dillard, in her book, Teaching a Stone to Talk, said that she and her husband once drove across the mountains of central Washington state to a place that would put them in the path of a total eclipse of the sun.  Early in that morning in 1979 they pulled off the highway and waited.  She said: 

The deepest and most terrifying [memory] was this: I have said that I heard screams….people on all the hillsides, including, I think, myself, screamed when the black body of the moon detached from the sky and rolled over the sun.  But something else was happening at that same instant, and it was this, I believe, which made us scream.  The second before the sun went out we saw a wall of dark shadow come speeding at us.  We no sooner saw it than it was upon us, like thunder.  It roared up the valley.  It slammed our hill and knocked us out.  It was the monstrous swift shadow cone of the moon….it was 195 miles wide.  No end was in sight—you only saw the edge.  It rolled at you across the land at 1800 miles per hour, hauling darkness like plague behind it….we saw the wall of shadow coming, and screamed before it hit. Continue reading “Where Were You When President Kennedy Was Shot?”

Irene, Goodnight…

For a change, Alabamians were watching anxiously for everyone else’s safety as Irene ripped up the Eastern seaboard.  Alabamians are used to hunkering down in our safe places with flashlights and batteries, bottled water and a weather radio, waiting for the all clear.  So we waited this time, but the memories of April were still with us.  I have a daughter in New York, so I appreciated Mayor Bloomberg’s caution.

There is a delicious sweetness in hunkering in the dark during a storm.  Routine stops, you call and gather everyone who matters most to you and let go of a frightful number of things that seem, normally, indispensable.  So, for a moment, flights grounded, schools closed, ballgames stop, traffic ceases, the world grows still as nature roars its terrible beauty and we wait.  It is delicious and sweet because the ache for life is powerful.  Anxiety, just enough to give an edge, focused toward listening and being ready. Tomorrow, when the storm passes, not only will we have the euphoria of having survived, but we will also probably see the most beautiful weather in months.  We are alive, and it feels good.  We have remembered for a moment who matters to us, and what doesn’t matter at all, and it is clear to us.

Storm names are the oddest thing to me.  Will I one day kneel in terror as “Hurricane Howard” or “Tropical Storm Myrtle Mae” bear down on me?  Weird.  We don’t name the tornadoes.  They come too quickly and they’re gone.  We only give them terrifying numbers:  F4 or F3, as though they were aliens dropped on the earth to destroy us.  Life and death, so close that we can think about it, not just abstractly.

So, glad it’s over.  But it drove me to somber singing this weekend.  Thought about old Leadbelly’s song, “Good Night Irene” when some man had painted a hasty sign he nailed to his outer banks property, “GOOD NIGHT, IRENE.”  Good night, indeed.  And goodbye.  We dodged death once more.  We are a little more alive, although some didn’t make it.  Count our blessings, clean up, and move on.

Had a little time this afternoon, so I recorded “Good Night Irene,” and remembered what a sad and tragic song it really is.  It’s odd to see what happened to it.  Leadbelly was a convicted murderer in prison who sang well enough to get a pardon or two, but the song is deeply sad, about a broken heart in an early marriage between two young, immature people.  The singer struggles with temptation to die, to throw himself into the river and drown.  Later mainstream folkies softened and sanitized it.  The Weavers’ version sounds like something from “A Mighty Wind.”  You can almost see Mitch Miller’s bouncing ball.

No, a good blues song is a serious thing–about life and death and pain and hellhounds.  No white picket fences, just the storm of some life, roaring toward you, and the sheer audacity of living when you know you’re going to die sooner or later.  Hunker down in a storm shelter, think about love and family and what matters, and your heart starts pouring out.  So you sing it and the storm passes and you’re still here, the truth is out there now, in notes and tears, and you can get up and go on a little more, relieved, glad, breathing still.  Now that’s a song.  So, goodnight Irene.  See you in our dreams, fears and all.  Good to still be here.