Oblate Program at Belmont Abbey, NC

Going against the current of fear

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Then Jesus said, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall compare it. It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and put in his garden; and it grew and became a large tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches. Luke 13: 18-19

There is always a beginning, a seed, planted in our deepest selves, often against our will. Jesus talks about the Kingdom and how it starts with a small seed and how it needs care in order for it to grow and come to full measure. He also talks in another parable about the sower, who scattered seed in his field and went on to speak about the enemy who came along and planted weeds. Both were left because to forcibly uproot the weeds would also do harm to the harvest. So they grow side by side. So you could say that in the field there is a struggle going on, one of sustenance, and the loser will die, be choked out of existence. It is a powerful image. For those who have worked in raising a small garden, it is easy to picture this scene. Weeds are gently cut down or pulled up by their roots, yet if only one seed drops to the ground they will sprout back up again. There is really no end to it. This can be applied to the life of the soul, where vigilance, endurance, and patience are needed. To become impatient with the weeds, we could do harm to the whole garden if we in anger seek to tear up once and for all what is undesirable.

So seeds of fear are planted in the garden of our souls. For some these fears can be crippling, deeply rooted and can lead to a life of diminishment. Fear in its useless form feeds off that which is good and strong in us. Just as weeds will choke the life out of the wheat, or other crops, by starving them to death, neurotic fear is a parasite that is insatiable.

Now fear, like any human emotion has a purpose. Real fear needs to be listened to. If not, which is a form of foolishness can lead to very serious consequences, even death, both on the physical and spiritual level. The struggle is to know when our fears are often based on an illusion.

I know a man who is very intelligent, a deep thinker, good writer and a poet. Yet he is dominated by many fears. I knew his past so I could understand his fear of losing control over his life or of failing in any endeavor. These fears had a choke hold on his life. It affected his relationship with others, because of his compulsion to dominate in a passive aggressive manner. So many friends would eventually withdraw from him because they could not be comfortable when he was with them. Because I do not see him often, our relationship has survived, though he can be draining.

He was invited to speak at a conference on Carl Jung because of his knowledge of Jung and his very deep penetrating insights on his theories. The event was to be held in Los Angeles and at first, he was excited about it. I encouraged him to consider it, for this is what he has been working towards for many years. Since I knew him, I was afraid he would back out. Over the following months, his fears of failure grew and he told me that it was not time, for him to do any kind of public speaking in front of a large audience. I was more than a little dismayed about this and tried to get him to face his fears and not let them have such a choke-hold on him. He was almost 50, so this was probably his last chance to really live out his desire to be a speaker on a subject he loved dearly.

He finally told me ‘no’, he could not do it. I respected his decision but was saddened by it. For he was, and is, a truly gifted writer and a deep thinker on the subject of the unconscious and it’s often hidden influence on our lives; sadly he could not use the knowledge to help him in his own life. I believe he knew that he was giving in to his fear. Today, he still writes and has a little journal with a small following. I talked with him a month or so ago and he told me that he regrets not going out to Los Angeles. His fear imprisoned him. However, he is still growing and little by little his fears are having less of a hold on him. Perhaps the loss and regret are spurs for him to seek deeper freedom. There is always hope and he is growing and helping others. Just not to the extent that he really wants to. The illusions of fear can be powerful and controlling and hard to free ourselves from. I am speaking of course from my own experience.

There are many fears, some are real, perhaps most of illusionary. Fear of losing face, of looking foolish, of failure, of not being perfect, of losing friendships if people actually knew us….the list is a long one. How to deal with them?

Fears start off small, in the sense that at the beginning, with help, they can be faced and overcome, though with difficulty. Fears, even those that are more illusion than reality are there to protect us from ‘life’ and ‘suffering’, but in the end, they can actually make us more miserable. To face one's fears, the difficulty in doing so, cannot be underestimated.

I started off with a quote from St. Luke Gospel. Why? I do believe that people of faith if they seek the reality of it, it will give them the courage to not be so afraid that they cannot face it and step over the wall that is before them. When we understand that our lives are a journey, that we are pilgrims and that our choices have a significance that we as yet do not understand, can open many doors for us, though the struggle is always there. Perhaps necessary, for when we go against the current of fear, on some level we are transformed and we allow Love’s way in our deepest areas of our heart and soul.

Br. Mark Dohle, OCSO
Holy Spirit Monastery

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