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Center for Action and Contemplation
Be Not Afraid
Be Not Afraid

Fear Is Contraction

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Father Richard Rohr locates the primary source of our fears in our small or false selves, which are unable to trust the love of God that infuses all of reality.  

Fear unites the disparate parts of our false selves very quickly. The ego moves forward by contraction, self-protection, and refusal, by saying no. Contraction gives us focus, purpose, direction, superiority, and a strange kind of security. It takes our aimless anxiety, covers it up, and tries to turn it into purposefulness and urgency, which results in a kind of drivenness. But this drive is not peaceful or happy. It is filled with fear and locates all its problems as “out there,” never “in here.”  

The soul or the True Self does not proceed by contraction but by expansion. It moves forward, not by exclusion, but by inclusion. It sees things deeply and broadly not by saying no but by saying yes, at least on some level, to whatever comes its way. Can you distinguish between those two very different movements within yourself?  

Fear and contraction allow us to eliminate other people, write them off, exclude them, and somehow expel them, at least in our minds. This immediately gives us a sense of being in control and having a secure set of boundaries—even holy boundaries. But people who are controlling are usually afraid of losing something. If we go deeper into ourselves, we will see that there is both a rebel and a dictator in all of us, two different ends of the same spectrum. It is almost always fear that justifies our knee-jerk rebellion or our need to dominate—a fear that is hardly ever recognized as such because we are acting out and trying to control the situation.  

Author Gareth Higgins describes moving through the “no” of fear to the “yes” of love:  

Look beneath your fear and you will discover what it is you really care about. What you wish to protect: people, places, things, hopes, dreams. Aggression, shame, and disconnection—even as attempts at making a better life for me or a better world for all of us—don’t work. But as we expand our circle of caring to include all people, all places, all of creation, we discover that our fears are shared and that all our cares come from the same place. Come to understand your fear, and you may find that we’re all just trying to figure out how to love. [1] 

Father Richard continues:  

Unless there is someone to hold and accompany us on these inner journeys, much of humanity cannot go very deep inside. If only we knew Who we would meet there, and could say, with St. Catherine of Genoa (1447–1510), “My deepest me is God!” [2] Without such accompaniment, most of us will stay on the surface of our own lives, where small-spiritedness keeps us from being bothered by others. Yet with divine accompaniment, we will literally “find our souls” and the One who lovingly dwells there.  

[1] Gareth Higgins, How Not to Be Afraid: Seven Ways to Live When Everything Seems Terrifying (Minneapolis, MN: Broadleaf Books, 2021), 34. 

[2] Catherine of Genoa, Vita, chapter 15.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer (New York: Paulist Press, 2014), 66–69. 

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:

My dad had a degenerative neurological disease, which eventually took away his ability to speak. One day I went to visit him and he spoke loudly and clearly: “A man came to see me and explained that it is all about love, everlasting love, and it doesn’t matter which side of life you are on. My love for you will never die!” He was so overjoyed, he practically glowed. When he finished telling me about the visit, he stopped speaking again. He died about a month later, and I’ve never forgotten his message. I am no longer afraid of death, as I know I will be enveloped by love. I am a changed person.
—Rebecca F.

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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