At times, like the Psalmist, I feel hounded by fears. Since beginning my meditation practice, in which I slow down and pay attention to my feelings and thoughts to help better see myself and see God within the patterns woven throughout my life, I have come to realize that underneath the façade I show others and at times try to show myself, I have a greater amount of fear than I ever want to admit.
I see an open door and the same time a part of me says “thank God! What a blessing!” a part of me says “you are just going to blow it like you always do”.
I see a new friendship or relationship open up and a part of me rejoices to get to know another and be known, but deep down there is a voice of fear saying “once they really know you, things will change” or “Just wait! Foot in mouth disease is about to ensue”.
It is strange to find in my meditation practice that in many ways I may feel these fears more strongly at first. It is not that I am more afraid, but more aware of the many whispered voices and thoughts in my life, both the ones of hope and also the ones of fear, doubt, questioning that sometimes feel like they nip at my ankles like angry dogs gathering around.
The Psalmist finds hope in God, who shelters them like a mother bird shelters her chicks underneath her wings. I remember when Katharine and I were raising chickens in Robeson county. A big hurricane came through and we woke to the cheeping of many little squeaking voices. Tiny puffs of feather were all over the debris-strung yard, being gathered up under the wings of one fierce momma hen. Whenever the chicks went off into unsafe territory, she gathered them under her wing. Whenever danger threatened she was poised to peck it away with her sharp beak.
Like a mother, we are told God gathers us under Sacred embrace where we are safe. I see this in my remembrance of God’s words over Jesus, words said over each of us in our baptism – “You are my Child, whom I love, in you I am well-pleased”. I’ve begun to include this in my meditation lately, remembering these words as I say the “Our Father” prayer Jesus gives in the Sermon on the Mount. For me, this remembrance helps bolster me against my yipping fears of inadequacy and failure that sometimes so beleaguer my soul. My worth is not what I accomplish, what I know, how well I present myself to others, or how liked I am by those I want to like me. Rather, I have worth for I am. I am born of the mothering Spirit of Life who embraces me in each moment, in the Father of all Creation, in Christ my Brother in suffering and joy who walks ahead of me in this path of life. I am looked at by this One as loved, one in whom this God is pleased. Ever and always. Before I have done anything right or wrong. Before I show potential or contribute. My failing or succeeding in the eyes of the world – or my own eyes! – does not change this. My worth remains constant. For me this settles some of my trembling fears.
The amazing thing, of course, of the image of God relating to us as mother bird is that the mother bird gathers the chicks under her wings not just to keep them safe but so that they might learn how to find the strength to know how to defend themselves against obstacles, and to learn the wisdom to know safe paths. It is not so they can ever remain under wing. By moving with her motion, they learn the way of safety, security, and peace. To me that too is a picture that helps me as I face into my fears.
God’s desire is for me not to remain infantile, stuck in patterns of fear. Though the same fears may re-emerge throughout my life – for goodness’ sake, throughout my day – they need not keep the same hold on me. As I practice my meditation, mindfulness, prayer, and other practices of Spirit I can become aware of the ways the Spirit is modeling care for my soul, awareness of my worth, other ways of seeing the sources of potential fear. As I do this I can begin to learn self-care, the path to finding wisdom within, the path that is safe, secure, and life-giving. One of the surprises of my spiritual journey to deeper freedom has been to learn how to ask my fears: What do you want to teach me? In doing so, I can begin to not become stuck by them, but also to realize these seeming enemies can be teachers on my way, as I see what mistakes these fears are trying to ask me to avoid. Often I find as I ask this question, I already am doing the things necessary to avoid the pitfall my fear wants me to side-step, but sometimes I find turning areas I can learn, grow, and hone my path so that instead of becoming barriers, the fears can become helpers instead of hindrances on my journey. As I continue on my spiritual journey, I can begin to grow up in Christ into a more whole and holy person. Though I may never arrive this side of the veil, my spiritual practice opens my heart to let God teach me how to daily confront my fears without being ruled by them, how to break these patterns that could otherwise keep me prisoner.
I wonder what story you have of your own experience confronting fear, doubt, questions, which feel threatening and seem to block your way ahead. What practices or experiences of Spirit have helped you face these? Where do you struggle still? What has opened up for you and how?
Know you are held and loved. Know you are worth more than you know. Know together with God, you can learn not to be destroyed by your fears but to embrace a new and holy path.
Your progressive redneck preacher,