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Be Not Afraid

A New Fearlessness

Thursday, March 31st, 2022

Can any of you, however much you worry, add a single cubit to your span of life? If a very small thing is beyond your powers, why worry about the rest? Think how the flowers grow; they never have to spin or weave; yet, I assure you, not even Solomon in all his royal robes was clothed like one of them. Now if that is how God clothes a flower which is growing wild today and is thrown into the furnace tomorrow, how much more will God look after you, who have so little faith! –Luke 12:25–28, New Jerusalem Bible 

Mystic and theologian Howard Thurman (1899–1991) describes the fear experienced by those who, as he puts it, have “their backs against the wall” [1] through oppression and injustice: 

The ever-present fear that besets the vast poor, the economically and socially insecure, is a fear of still a different breed. It is a climate closing in; it is like the fog in San Francisco or in London. It is nowhere in particular yet everywhere. It is a mood which one carries around with oneself, distilled from the acrid conflict with which one’s days are surrounded. It has its roots deep in the heart of the relations between the weak and the strong, between the controllers of environment and those who are controlled by it. 

Thurman makes it clear that Jesus, as a member of the Jewish community under Roman occupation, would have intimately understood this kind of fear and addressed it:   

In the great expression of affirmation and faith found in the Sermon on the Mount [see Matthew 6:25–34] there appears in clearest outline the basis of [Jesus’] positive answer to the awful fact of fear and its twin sons of thunder—anxiety and despair. . . . 

The core of the analysis of Jesus is that humans are children of God, the God of life that sustains all of nature and guarantees all the intricacies of the life-process itself. Jesus suggests that it is quite unreasonable to assume that God, whose creative activity is expressed even in such details as the hairs of a person’s head, would exclude from God’s concern the life, the vital spirit, of the person themselves. This idea—that God is mindful of the individual—is of tremendous import in dealing with fear as a disease. In this world the socially disadvantaged person is constantly given a negative answer to the most important personal questions upon which mental health depends: “Who am I? What am I?”  

The first question has to do with a basic self-estimate, a profound sense of belonging, of counting. If a person feels that they do not belong in the way in which it is perfectly normal for other people to belong, then they develop a deep sense of insecurity. . . . [But] the awareness of being a child of God tends to stabilize the ego and results in a new courage, fearlessness, and power. I have seen it happen again and again.  

References:  
[1] Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited, 7.

Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1949), 36–37, 48, 49, 50. Note: minor edits made to incorporate inclusive language.  

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Nicholas Kramer, Untitled (detail), 2021, photograph, Washington, used with permission. Paul Thompson, Untitled Sunrise (detail), 2021, video still, New Mexico. Jenna Keiper, Moonrise I (detail), 2020, photograph, Washington, used with permission. Jenna Keiper, 2022, triptych art, United States.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: Playing with the light found within night, in these images we find beauty and rest even in moments that might feel eerie and dangerous.

Story from Our Community:

Truth be told / I must write about the plank in my eye / That causes me to see life in a small way. / Truth says, I miss the enormity of my sin. / I often think / My life / Is about me. / My sin / Is only things I’ve done. / The sage says / My life is not about me / That I own all the faults / Every eye splinter I have spotted in others / Because we are one. / Unified / Whole
—from “Plank” by Tom S.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

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