Letting Go of Fear

If someone really does not care whether they live or die it is hard to threaten them.  If our identity lies in whose we are, and not just who we are, then even loss of reputation will only be a temporary setback.  The need to be someone, to have clout, to command respect, to have prestige or position, these are shackles every bit as strong as those of materialism.
To be seen as holy, or spiritually mature, someone of depth, having a quiet authority: are these not also ambitions, or bolsters of our status?
If we can only reach the true poverty and yieldedness of not “needing to be” anything (even a humble nothing), then we will be truly invisible.  We will be unable to be bought by any pressure.

–Celtic Daily Prayer

Today’s reading from Celtic Daily Prayer offers us several lessons about our spiritual lives. I taught a class Sunday on one of the primary threats to our relationship with God: fear.  When we turn onto the highway of fear, we find that it’s full of toll roads.  Fear may be our Ancient Enemy’s most powerful weapon.  When I look back on the worst mistakes I’ve made in my life, I find that they were motivated by a common denominator:  I was afraid.

Fear can manifest itself in a number of ways.  The more our wealth increases, the more we fear that we might lose it: through thieves, market fluctuations, taxation, or that it just might not be enough. Thus, Jesus regularly cautioned us about letting go of our wealth.

Today’s reading, however, cautions us about another kind of fear: the need to be well thought of, to command respect, and achieve spiritual advancement.  It’s a caution that I take to heart.  From a very early age, I wanted to be “the smartest guy in the room.”  And for those of us in the religious life, our fear can push us into a fear of spiritual disrespect.  It’s a very special kind of pride, which can manifest itself in a particular type of fear.  We wonder, “What if they don’t listen? What if they think I’m shallow?”

And yet, Jesus taught us that the kingdom of heaven would belong to the poor in spirit. Matt. 5:3. What does spiritual poverty mean to us?  The notion reminds me of Job, who lost everything there was to lose. (Coincidentally, the readings from the Daily Office are focussing on Job. The icon above is a very old icon of Job.)  Every last bit of pride was stripped from him. And yet, Job never abandoned the Source of his life. In many ways, I think the Book of Job is one of the most Christian books of the Old Testament.

The trick, I think, lies in remembering (as Celtic Daily Prayer reminds us) not so much who we are as whose we are. We are beloved children of God and we belong only to Him.  Nothing else matters so much as that.  And when we come to that realization, like Job, we find comfort in the knowledge that “my Redeemer lives.”  Job 19:25.

May the peace of Christ disturb you profoundly,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

 © 2012 James R. Dennis

18 responses to “Letting Go of Fear

  1. Joy to this post and your writings, and the beautiful Celtic Prayer for the power of their Wisdom! thank you Brother James

  2. All I can say is “AMEN” to all you have said. Personally, my daily walk with the Lord is a continual struggle to go against my pride and fear of fialure and loss, as I seek to put Him first in my life. I believe this is a struggle that many face everyday. Lord bless you.brother.

  3. James: thanks for this meditation. I really needed this wisdom today.

  4. Excellent thoughts for today. There’s a lot of fear in the world right now. A lot of fear in American politics. Thanks for helping us keep our priorities straight.

  5. Your post brings up several things for me. First, I remember how often Jesus and angels tell us, “Do not be afraid.” Second, I have begun to consider that love, not courage, is the antidote to fear. Finally, what struck me in the Daily Office readings is that after Job received the news of one loss after another, he “fell on the ground and worshipped.”

    Peace,
    Mike+

    • Mi Padre,

      I think you’re right: love (and not particularly courage) will generally overcome fear. And your observation regarding the Book of Job is precisely so.

      God bless you, mi compa,

      Br. James

  6. Jesus warned His followers “Woe to you when all men speak well of you” because we have no other reward if we receive our glory on earth. As a pastor I know once said, you only get paid once for your work.

    And, as Brother Mike pointed out, the Bible tells us that “perfect love casts out fear.” I don’t know why I still fear disapproval, when I know it’s contrary to God’s ways. Pray for me.

    Peace,
    Olive Twist

  7. I shall imprint the phrase “whose we are” in my imperfect brain. That sums up everything you have written in this most excellent blog.

  8. My brother, you have brought up an especially knotty problem here, for I’m quite sure you really have been “the smartest guy in the room” just about everywhere you’ve been. If it had been just wishful thinking on your part, then that would be one type of temptation to overcome, but I suppose it’s harder to have the proper humility when you really do have a gift. But this is the very reason I thank God for your influence on my life. The intellect is very important to me, too, and therefore your intelligence has appealed to me since I first visited your blog. But it is your humility and the sense of peace you offer us that makes your blog a necessary part of my week. In all my dealings with people in cyberspace, I frequently ask myself, “How would Brother James respond to this?” And what I mean is, “Don’t fly off the handle. Take a deep breath and offer the peace of Christ. . . just like Brother James would do.” Thank you for being that kind of example for me.

    Ron

    • Ron,

      You are far too kind, and make a Dominican brother blush. Sometimes, I also have to ask myself, “What would Brother James do?” (Wry grin.)

      Thanks, as always for the support and encouragement.

      The Lord bless you and keep you, and make His face to shine upon you,

      Br. James

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