The following reflection is written by Joyce Rupp – writer, international retreat leader, and conference speaker.
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Shortly after the Covid-19 virus reached our state, an incident in the supermarket troubled me. A stranger spoke at length about the details of his work at a water bottling company, his worries about getting his needs met and the free lunches he applied for at two places. As the man moved on, he lowered his voice and confided, “I’m afraid of what people are gonna do so I got two loaded guns in my house.” His comment unsettled me. Fear’s ability to pounce on peace and replace it with violence became more real that morning.
Fear in itself is humanity’s friend, a natural response meant to protect our well-being. But when fear insists on center stage and gobbles up peacefulness, it can change into an enemy. Pema Chodron writes in Comfortable with Uncertainty that instead of “resisting our fears” we need to “get to know them well” and ask ourselves, “What happens when I feel I can’t handle what’s going on? …Where do I look for strength and in what do I place my trust?” That last question is a determining factor as to the choice of maintaining foundational peace or succumbing to high anxiety when fear arises due to an uncertain, glum future.
Tara Brach (Radical Compassion) describes what I consider to be a valuable meditation in regard to where we place our trust: “Let the fears you’re carrying, the big ones, come to mind. And now imagine that you are holding them gently and respectfully in both hands…and placing them into the arms of the Divine Mother. It’s not that you’re getting rid of them. It’s more like letting something much larger help you hold them. See if you can visualize and feel this. You might try actually cupping your hands and lifting them up.”
This meditation reflects an aspect of Brach’s core method, RAIN, for lessening anxiety. This helpful, fourfold step is on her website. Besides Brach’s approach, several other spiritual practices keep my mind and heart steering away from fear. The first is The Serenity Prayer by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. The first three lines are most often worded this way: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” I also return daily to several lines in Nan Merrill’s translation of Psalm 91 inviting the words to sink into my heart: “My refuge and my strength, In You alone will I trust. For You deliver me from the webs of fear, from all that separates and divides.” (Psalms for Praying)
There’s another spiritual practice that assists in leveling fear when it hurtles itself at me. I created a list of people with good reason to have fears much bigger than mine. The litany consists of those easily recognized for their bravery such as medical staffs, EMTS, caregivers and police officers, along with those in less prominent view: transportation drivers, food chefs, postal workers, plumbers, and more. I focus on the Compassionate One’s love in my heart and intentionally send this abiding peace forth to those who are placing themselves in harm’s way for the sake of serving others and saving lives.
As we move through this troubling period of human history, I hope we can corral unhelpful fears and maintain our peace by trusting in Someone or something larger than ourselves.