Every once in a Blue Moon you will find me in an Episcopal or Methodist Church. I was raised in the Methodist Church and I attended an Episcopal Youth Group without which I would not have made it through high school. It has been my experience that the Methodists and Episcopalians are generally open-minded individuals and won’t condemn anyone to hell for not believing and worshipping as they do. Now, I have come across a few exceptions to that rule but those churches tended to be in smaller, Southern towns.
I have known my godsister, Marie, since I was five. Before my parents became her godparents, we were ketchup sisters (instead of blood sisters. I think we saw that on Punky Brewster or something. I have one other ketchup sister, who is one of the followers of this blog. LOVE YOU!! MUAH!). We grew up together. We attended that same Youth Group. After high school, our friendship went in waves as far as interaction with each other. We both went down very different paths. Neither better than the other, just different. She ended up at Yale Divinity School. She once told me that although she believed in Christ, she also believed in the Maiden, Mother, Crone. I remember that small period of a crisis of faith that I think all clergy go through. She worked her way through it and became someone who I have known to be one of the most faithful, understanding, compassionate, authentic Christians I have ever met. She ranks up there with my 100-year old grandmother and my paternal aunt as the main reasons I have not given up on the evolution of the Christian faith-or Christians in general. If logistics allowed, I would have been at every one of Marie’s sermons over the last 12 years.
We have been in the low-tides of our interaction over the last decade or so. We both know it is nothing more than hectic lives and location (even though we technically both live in the same city, she is WAY inside the city and I am WAY outside the city). We see each other on the FaceBook and can keep track of each other. I went to her ordination. I was there when she preached her first sermon as an associate rector at the church we grew up in. I was there last week as she preached her last sermon as an associate rector of the church we grew up in.
Marie is moving on to rock the boat and make waves as the first female rector of an historic church in a much larger city. I could not be prouder. My heart overflows with excitement and love for her on this new path. However, this is not the basis of this entry. Now that you have the back story, I will tell you the catalyst for this particular entry. I was at the service to celebrate Marie’s new adventure, and as to be expected (at least by me), her sermon left me nodding my head in agreement.
The sermon centered around the Gospel of Luke 12:32-40
Jesus said to his disciples, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. But know this; if the owner of the house had known what hour the thief was coming, he would not let his house be broken into. You must also be ready, for the son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
On the surface, this gospel made me shudder. Followers seem to be compared to slaves and God as their master. I am a servant of Divinity, not a slave. Slaves don’t have free will, I do. Granted, sometimes it doesn’t always feel like I have a choice when it comes to what Freyja and other Divine beings decide need to take place. However, at the very end of the day, I always have a choice.
Anyway, my god sister did as I have heard her do before. She took that lesson, that gospel and gave it such a beautiful interpretation I no longer cringe when I read it. In the beginning, she scoffed at the part of the lesson that tells its readers “Do not be afraid”. “Do not be afraid?!?! Ha!”
She goes on to tell her parish that while it is an extremely difficult instruction to follow, we must. “We must let go of our fear. We must listen to it, hear its wheedling voice telling us all the things that might could go wrong, and then we must pack it up and send it along right next to its friends Anxiety and Despair. We must. We must.”
So then what? What do we do once we manage to pack up that fear and move it out? She told us that the gospel is Jesus reminding his followers that this is not an invitation to relax. It is an invitation to free ourselves from fear and free ourselves to do the work we must do to be ready to accept whatever God has in store for us. Get ready for what is on the other side. A time to polish and clean our spiritual houses so we can accept whatever greatness may be on the other side. To get ready for the next thing.
While she does talk about the Kingdom of God (which is part of her job), she puts it in terms of doing it for THIS life. For the everyday growths and challenges. She didn’t tell her parish to have this unwavering faith in God to make it okay. She sought to explain that to not only have faith in what God has in store, but also to do some work themselves. To be vigilant and do the work to be ready for whatever comes next.
AAAHHH, le sigh.
Since this sermon, 8 days ago, fear has come up several times for me through random aspects. A conversation with my eldest, a mother-in-law character on a syndicated sitcom, conversations with adults who are in the midst of a variety of the dance with fear we all go through. This is what I call a sign to further explore this topic and to share my musings with you.
Fear can be such a nasty thing. It can also be a useful tool. It can propel us forward or it can leave us frozen in place. Fear can be fire or ice. A little fear can be a good thing. Fear is a natural, gut, knee-jerk response that all humans have. If you come to tell me that you are afraid of nothing, I will call your bullshit any day of the week.
We all fear the unknown. The fear of moving out of our homes; the fear of going off to a new city/state/country; the fear of leaving a toxic relationship; the fear of leaving a secure job to start your own business; the fear of being vulnerable with your feelings by expressing those feelings; the fear of expressing your needs and desires to your partner(s); the fear of commitment; the fear of failure; the fear of success; the fear of being unknown; the fear of being known. That pesky emotion is everywhere, whether we want to admit it or not.
And then there is the fear that really does benefit us and keep us safe like being afraid of being hit by a car; the fear of being violated; the fear of falling off a ladder or high space; the fear of being bitten/eaten by a wild animal; etc, etc, etc.
The ancient Norse tell us to “be wary, but not over wary”. It’s usually a good idea to practice caution, but if we let those fears cripple us, we would not leave our houses; we would not talk with others and the human race would have died off thousands and thousands of years ago, right? So why do we let these other fears cripple us, keep us stagnant? Why do we let the fear of the unknown cripple us to the point that we do not grow or evolve from where we are most comfortable?
If we constantly allow fear to keep us in our comfort zones, we cannot grow. We cannot get stronger. We cannot get wiser. We cannot experience all of the delicious and wonderful things this life has to offer us. Do we risk getting hurt? Absolutely! Does getting hurt suck? Hell yea! Will that pain kill us? Not if we don’t let it!! In fact, if we do it right, we can use that pain for even further growth.
So, what do we do? How do we do it? How can we acknowledge these fears without letting them control us? We have to look deeply at our fears. What are we REALLY afraid of when we let our fears dictate our movement? Are we afraid we are unworthy of success? Are we afraid we are not smart or savvy enough to strike out on our own? Are we afraid that if we do succeed we’ll actually have to work harder? Are we afraid of doing the work? Are we afraid of our personal shadows so much that we push them down further from the surface? Are we afraid that if we express our feelings to a loved one we will get hurt? Are we afraid that people will find out we are flawed-as all humans are? Are we afraid that if we rock the boat we won’t have support from our loved ones? Are we afraid of being alone? Are we afraid of not being alone?
All of these are valid fears. In some cases, we gotta pull ourselves up by the boot straps, suck it up, say a little prayer and go for it. We never know what awaits us on the other side. We have to have faith that sometimes when we are pulled by some inner and outer Divine force to make a step in a certain direction that it is with good reason; that Divine has something wonderful in store for us and all we have to do is have a little faith in Divine and in ourselves, take the step and do the work. No matter how scary it seems.
One of the most powerful lessons in faith I ever had was about 13 years ago. I was standing in the bathroom of a High Priestess getting ready for ritual, talking about faith. She told me to turn around, cross my arms, close my eyes and fall back. The first time I did it, I stumbled. I had too much fear. The second time I did it, I fell back without fear. She said, “THAT is what faith is. Falling back, knowing that the Goddess will catch you.” It isn’t always easy to fall back in full faith. Nor is faith all it takes. Some religions will have you believe that as long as you have enough faith in Divine, you don’t have to do anything else. God will take care of everything for you. Bullshit. Divine will meet you half way. We don’t always know where the half-way mark is, but that is part of that faith thing.
When we experience our fears, we have to find that balance within ourselves to not only have that faith in Divine, but to also DO what it is WE need to do in order to get to that half-way point. We have to take that first step out of that toxic relationship; we have to take the steps towards finding a new home; we have to take the steps to find out all we can about the career field we WANT; we have to say those words; we have to do the fucking work AND we have to have faith that Divine is with us, cheering us on, loving us unconditionally, and sees the things we do not have the ability to see which is why They lead us to a certain crossroads.
Now, there are some fears that threaten to swallow us whole and devour our very souls. Sometimes our fears are far bigger than us and the idea of faith in ourselves and Divine being enough is hysterical-and not the good kind of hysterics. So then what? Reaching out is good. Reach out to a loved one. Reach out to your community. Reach out to a professional. Reach out to a clergy member, mentor, or teacher. Reach out to me. If your fear is beyond what I can help with, I will help you find someone who can help. The trick is to NOT let your fears consume you or dictate every move you make. Don’t let your fears keep you from growing into the phenomenal individual you have the potential to be. Don’t let your fears keep you from evolving. Don’t let your fears keep you from tasting all life has to offer, even if it isn’t all pleasant. Chances are if we don’t let our fears run our lives, our lives will be much sweeter in the long run. It is kinda like having your favorite beverage after a long, hard day’s work. The road is long. The road is scary in some places. You are not alone. You are loved and treasured. Acknowledge your fears. Hear your fears. Set them aside and ready yourself to not only do the work that has to be done to get to the other side, but also ready yourself to experience the journey. Most of all, have faith that the other side will be amazing one way or another no matter how long it takes or how much work must be done to get there.