Saturday, 31 October 2015

Faces of Fear

Today the 1st of November is All Saints Day or All Hallows Day. It is sandwiched between All Hallows Eve or Halloween on the 31st October and on 2nd November All Souls Day, a time in the Christian Calendar to remember all souls who have departed this life.

Like other Christian festivals, including Christmas, Easter and Whitsuntide, these three autumn days are a fascinating mixture of pre-Christian, Christian and even post-Christian tradition and mythos. I am fairly certain that the children going door to door at Halloween are probably not aware that they have created a modern day variant on the pre-Christian festival of Samhain; a festival that not only celebrated harvest, but was also a time to commune with spirits of ancestors. There are similar traditions throughout most culture's, autumnal and winter festivals. Autumn is a time of reflection, a time to take stock before the harsh realities of winter come.

Halloween in the north of England is something that is marked, at least in a secular way, far more
these days than I remember in my earlier childhood. When I was a child it was Guy Fawkes or Bonfire Night that took on greater significance. I don’t really remember going “Trick or Treating”, until a significant film came out in 1982 and then everything seemed to change. The film was E.T. the Extra Terrestrial. One of the most commercially successful films of all time and one that changed something significantly, certainly in my life and perhaps the culture of the North of England. I recall, as many others did, that after this going door to door, trick or treating replaced the tradition of going “Door to Door” asking for “a penny for the guy” and of course “Mischievous Night”. It seems that these traditions all got swallowed up with “Trick or Treating”. “Mischievous Night”, at least in Yorkshire came on the 4th November and was linked to the “Gunpowder Plot” or “Fireworks Night” that is marked on the 5th of November. Things could get pretty wild on “Mischievous Night” and some, I’m sure, are glad to see that it has pretty much been lost to history. You do hear of little pockets of it in Liverpool and Leeds, but mainly it has gone the way of the Dodo and been replaced by “Trick or Treating”. There’s a part of me that wishes this wasn’t true. I remember the thrill of getting "up to no good" with friends and of hearing similar tales of other friends who were far more daring than I. I also remember my granddad telling me of things he and his mate Percy used to get up to. I remember the delight in this night of freedom that the children used to be granted. A freedom that I fear children of today do not enjoy.

Now when we think of Halloween today it is horror movies and the fear that accompany them that immediately springs to my mind. Such horrors can stay with us for many years and make us afraid to step out in the dark or to sit in the house alone. I recently went to see a horror film with some friends. I have to say I didn’t enjoy it and for a few days, as I went on my early morning walks, there was a sense of fear in my mind, my heart and my soul.

As a child I could easily be affected by such films. I remember being haunted for years by a Saturday night episode of “Hammer House of Horror”. It was a werewolf tale that vividly remains within my psyche. The image that had the greatest impact was of the beast at the window in the black of night and the person turning round and it being in the room with them. This was etched on my memory for years and to such an extent that I never dared look out through the glass of my room after dark. Even to this day there is a part of me that feels nervous if I look through “glass darkly”

Fear is a powerful emotion. It has the power to inhibit but it also has the power of allure. Fear comes in many forms. In "Freedom From Fear: Finding the Courage to Act, Love and Be" Forrest Church identified five different types, which he associated with the body, intellect, conscience, emotions and soul. These being:

“Fright” (Centred in the body), which is a kind of instinctive fear, designed to protect us from physical danger. It’s that feeling that makes us jump while watching a horror film or the thing that gets our blood pumping and awakens our senses and allows us to respond to physical danger.

The second being “Worry” (Centred in the intellect), this is a fear that is produced by our worst imaginings. Often they are not real and can be blown out of all reasonable proportions. Shortly before he died Mark Twain mused, “I am an old man and I have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened”

The third being “Guilt” (Centred in the conscience). This is a fear of being caught out or found out due to something that we have done in our past. It’s a fear we often carry with us and can be projected into so much of our lives. It’s the feeling that can come over us as we pass through security at airports, even though there is no reason to feel it, or when walking out of stores and passing through the security senses, even though we know we haven’t stolen anything.

The fourth being “Insecurity” (centred in the emotions), this is fear prompted by feelings of inadequacy. It is a fear that breeds a need to seek approval from others. It’s form of Narcissism and forms deep self-consciousness which makes us unconscious to life itself.

The fifth and perhaps worst of all is “Dread” (centred in the soul), a fear that is generated by life’s general uncertainty. In “Freedom from Fear” Church wrote “ ‘Man himself produces dread, wrote the Christian philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. We manufacture it whenever we attempt to control things over which we hold no final authority. We reduce life to a battleground, where we struggle against insurmountable odds. Fearing every transition from certainty to uncertainty, we devote our full energy to protecting ourselves against loss. Dread is the opposite of trust. The more we dread death and dying, the more alarming life and living turn out to be.”

Yes fear has many faces and all of them powerful in their own ways. We each of us experience every type at different times in our lives.

The other morning I was out walking before sunset. As I headed towards John Leigh Park I noticed a woman was standing on the edge of the park, with her large German Shepherd dog. She looked at me, with fear in her eyes, and said “I’m not going in their while it is still dark.” I smiled and said “I think you’ll be ok with the dog”, she looked back at me nervously and said, “yes everyone says that”. I just carried on walking on into the park and then onto the neighbourhood circuit. About twenty minutes later I passed through the park again, by now the sun had come up and the woman and her dog were happily playing right in the middle of the park. Nothing had really changed and yet she felt safer now that the sun had come up.

So many of us fear the dark, the unknown, the unseen, the uncertain. The truth is though that so much of life is uncertain. I have learnt that it is vital to accept this, to surrender to this and through this you find the courage to simply live and truly be yourself and to discover real faith in life once again.

The encounter in the park reminded me of a story I once heard of a young boy who lived with his parents on a farm. His job each afternoon was to fetch the afternoon paper so that his dad could read, after a long days work, while eating his tea. Now one November day he forgot to fetch the paper and by now it was turning dark. It turned four o’clock, nearly tea time, and his mum noticed that he hadn’t fetched the paper, she asked her son if he would get it. Twenty minutes later she asked again and then ten minutes later, still no paper, so she asked once again. This went on until the mum completely lost her temper and shouted at the boy, will you get your dad’s paper. At which point the boy burst into tears. His mother realising something was wrong went to boy, who was inconsolable by now. After a while she calmed him down and asked him what on earth was wrong. He began to explain that all his life he had been afraid of the dark, but was too afraid to let his parent know. His mother soothed him and then asked. Now then you are a boy of faith and you believe in God, you believe that God is in you and with you. That God is in everything, even the dark. The boy nodded and then his mother said “There is no reason then to fear the dark, for God is in the dark, and God can do anything. Now be a good lad and go and get your dad’s paper.” At this the boy looked up at his mum smilingly and went to the door. He opened the door and confidently and shouted “God will you get me my dad’s paper please.”

This brought to mind a passage from Mark's Gospel Ch 4 vv 35 – 41. The passage depicts Jesus and the disciples being caught in a storm. It follows many verses depicting Jesus speaking in parables, at the river bank, about faith and the Kingdom of God. After Jesus has finished preaching he and the disciples cross the waters and are caught in the storm. The disciples become afraid for their lives and waken Jesus who calms the seas and then rebukes them with the following words ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ Just like the lady on the edge of the park, or the boy they were afraid, they lacked courage, and they lacked faith in life. It seems to me that living in this kind of fear is the very thing that so often reduces life. The key to overcome this fear, it seems to me is courage.

Courage in many ways is the essence of life, maybe it is our daily bread. Anais Nin once said “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” I’m sure we can all think of moments when our own lives have either expanded or shrunk in proportion to our courage. Courage itself comes from the French root “Cuer” meaning heart. To have courage is to have strength of heart. Courage is a consistent and sustaining love, it is a spiritual energy that sustains us in sickness and in health in loss or disappointment.

It is said that there are only really two emotions fear and love. Which I think can be translated as fear or courage. Now I do not believe that to feel the emotion of fear is to lack love, or courage or faith. That said to be ruled by fear and to be paralysed by it, may well mean a lack of faith. How often in life, do we say no to life because we have become paralysed by fear? How often do we expect someone else to do what we can do ourselves, because of fear? For me faith is all about having the courage to be all that we can be do and to do all that we can do in love and service.

Life shrinks or expands in proportion to the size of our heart; life shrinks or expands in service to life itself. It’s about heart, it’s about courage, and it’s about being all that we can.

To have courage is to have strength of heart and to live from our hearts in our ordinary everyday activities. Courage is a way of living and breathing it’s about living openly and vulnerably in the world. Courage comes in those ordinary acts of love as we walk slowly through life. It is courage that allows us to learn that even when life has betrayed us, love is still present.

It is courage that allows us to stay open to life even when the storms are really blowing. It is courage that is formed in the heart; it is courage that is the ultimate act of faith; it is courage that keeps us open to life so that we can live in love and service.

I'm going to end this chip of a blogspot with this beautiful poem...

"Triumph of being" by Edith Södergran

What have I to fear? I am a part of infinity,
I am a part of the all’s great power,
a lonely world inside millions of worlds,
like a star of the first degree that fades last.
Triumph of living, triumph of breathing, triumph of being!
Triumph of feeling time run ice-cold through one’s veins
and of hearing the silent river of the night
and of standing on the mountain under the sun.
I walk on sun, I stand on sun,
I know of nothing else than sun.
Time – convertress, time – destructress, time – enchantress,
do you come with new schemes, a thousand tricks to offer me existence
as a little seed, as a coiled snake, as a coiled snake, as a rock amidst the sea?
Time – you murdress – leave me!
The sun fills my breast with sweet honey up to the brim
and she says: all stars fade at last, but they always shine without fear.

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