“Do not be afraid.”
–Gen 15:1, Ex 14:13, Num 14:9, Deut 1:17, Josh 1:9, Judges 6:23,
1 Sam 12:20, 2 Kings 1:15, 1 Chron 22:13, 2 Chron 20:15, Isa 10:24, Jer 1:8, Eze 2:6, Dan 10:12, Joel 2:21, Zech 8:13, Matt 1:20, Luke 1:13, John 12:15, Acts 18:9, Rev 1:17 …and more!
“Do not be afraid” is often named as the most repeated phrase in the Bible. Whether that’s true or not is for someone else to research. It’s definitely in there a LOT.
We know that we don’t make our best decisions from places of fear, so it’s generally good advice… and yet, fear is an emotion. It’s a reaction. It’s not really something to control so much as to notice and try to manage.
Take a deep breath… let it out with a sigh… see if you can notice your breath and your pulse and just be still for a moment.
Then, in that moment of stillness, see if you can notice beyond your fear and check if you’re in danger.
The thing is, often, whether we’re in danger is an entirely different question than whether or not we’re afraid.
In report after report of racialized violence, there’s someone saying that they “feared for their life” and that’s why they fired a gun. But all too often, the actual danger was to the black or brown body that was shot.
In the utter mess of COVID-19 policies or restrictions, fear of loss of individual rights, fear of change, or fear of financial recession are driving the decisions rather than the actual dangers of viral transmission, hospitalization, eviction and job loss in an economy with no social services safety net.
Too often the secular world tries to address our fears rather than minimizing dangers we could collectively do something about. And unfortunately, many times the church gets portrayed as a place where we’re supposed to “feel safe,” to be free from fear.
Church, spiritual care, faith… these things can do a lot to treat and manage fear. But what the church can do best is be a place and community where we practice taking a deep breath, connecting to God and one another, and checking in on how we’re going to let go of that fear. And if we can’t let go of it, how we’re going to live with fear and go about the work of loving anyway.
The church can also be a place and community that calls out and names real danger in a world that cares more for money and power.
The church can be a place that continuously calls out the very real dangers that are posed by gun violence and lack of gun control. The church can be a place that calls out the very real dangers of viral transmission and pressuring our elected officials to open up businesses rather than create a plan that doesn’t force our poorest workers and healthcare workers into constant danger. The church can be a place that calls out the dangers of laws that protect police officers’ fears more than the black and brown bodies they fear.
And when we’re finally afraid for the right reasons, because of real dangers, the church can be a place where we breathe and sit with those fears. A place where we can be still and remember that while we always have to deal with dismantling and dealing with danger… we don’t have to be afraid.
A prayer adapted from Ps 46:10
Be still, and know that I am God (breathe)
Be still, and know that I am (breathe)
Be still, and know (breathe)
Be still. (breathe)