Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Faith and Fear

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, 
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea
Psalm 46:1-2

Many are the prayers that are being said for the people in Boston: for those who died and the families and friends that grieve them; for those who are injured and all the assistance they will require; for those who responded so quickly with help and support to the many who needed it, the wounded in both body and spirit. Many are the prayers, and many are needed, because there is not only grief to contend with, not only physical pain of injury or emotional pain of loss. There is fear, and fear can break much more than we will ever be able to document in the news reports.

Must I fear what others fear?
What   nonsense!
Tao Te Ching, Ch 20 

Fear led someone, possibly more than one someones, to enough brokenness and hatred that he or she or they were willing to put bombs in bags and place them around with the intention to kill people they had never met before. People whose faces and stories were unknown. People who may have looked differently, lived differently, believed differently than the bomb makers – or people who looked, lived and believed exactly the same as the bomb makers; there was no way for the bomb makers to know. Did the bomb makers get a surge of excitement, even exhilaration, at the chaos and panic that the bombs brought into being? Maybe. Maybe they feel powerful, but the act of killing someone for no reason other than random placement on a street shows powerlessness, an inability to make yourself heard any other way, as though the killers question whether the system, value or belief that they want to uphold has enough merit to stand on its own without violent tactics to back it up. It shows fear. And fear always wants to spread. 

They are wise whose thoughts are steady and minds serene,
unaffected by good and bad.
They are awake and free from fear.
 Dhammapada 3.39-40 

Now that the bomb makers have had their say, another fear of another kind comes creeping in, and it affects far more people than a few bombs can ever hope to reach: the fear of those who could carry out an attack like this, and even more, the simple fear of others who don’t look or live or believe like us. Right now we don’t know who did this; someday soon we will. But the fear will still be there, the fear that this can happen again, that it can happen in my town, my neighborhood, to my friends and loved ones, to me. Fear that the person I pass on the street might be a Muslim extremist, or a right-wing extremist, or some other kind of extremist I haven’t even thought of, and that he or she or they might try to kill us or my loved ones or me. Fear that if we don’t keep Muslims from getting a foothold in this country, or stop our next door neighbors from owning guns, or don’t keep those people over there somewhere from learning on the Internet how to make homemade bombs, then something is going to blow up in my town/neighborhood/yard sooner or later. Fear.

He who knows the joy of Brahman,
which words cannot express and the mind cannot reach,
is free from fear.
Taittiriya Upanishad 2.7-9 

The question isn’t whether this fear has a valid grounding: it’s whether we want to live in the middle of it, and whether we are called to be people of fear or people of faith – of all kinds of faiths. 

Oh, verily, they who are close to God –
no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve.
Surah 10:62 

Do we want to live in the brokenness of fear, which drops like a rock wall in front of compassion and generosity and openheartedness? Or do we want to follow the call of the scriptures we call sacred, and the example of the people we hold up as the guides of humanity – people like Jesus, the prophets, the Buddha, Mohammed, Gandhi, Dr. King, and so many others who set fear aside and told us of a better way of compassion and action?

  There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.
For fear has to do with punishment,
and he who fears is not perfected in love.
1 John 4.7-8 

I watch the little girls from down the street come running to play with the next door neighbors. One might have hit the double digit mark; the other certainly hasn’t. They laugh, they skip, they are joyful on this spring day.  And I don’t want to have to fear for these two sweet children just because they wear headscarves. I don’t want fear to lead others to treat them as enemies or criminals, as though they have to answer for things they have never done.  So just as I pray for the people of Boston and those affected by these bombs, I will pray for these two little girls, and for the society that surrounds them, that all of the fear may be cast out, and that they will grow perfected in love.