Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Do Not Be Afraid

Apparently This Is a Centuries Old Problem

This is one of those posts where I'm going to give two fair warnings, although I don't really think neither is probably necessary. A big chunk of this post is somewhat spiritual in nature, so if that's not your cup of tea you might want to skip to another one. Otherwise, here goes. I found out something really interesting today (well technically yesterday since it's 2:34 a.m. - taking a break from work and listening to "Masters of Chant"). The most common command in the Bible has absolutely nothing to do with rules, laws, money, sexual orientation, or even moral teaching as most religions would frame it. The single most common command in Christian scriptures (and it's not even close) is this:

Do not be afraid.

I find that one fact incredibly fascinating, especially since it's been 10 years since my conversion and I'm 99% sure that not once have I heard this fact or heard this in a sermon. I'm allowing the 1% because 10 years is a bloody long time, especially the way I manage to pack things in there. Plus a couple serious head injuries, and you're never quite completely sure again, but I digress...

The immediate reaction of some people I tried to discuss this with was to instantly tie it to faith, and I've often heard the maxim "faith is the opposite of fear," and maybe in a few of the Scriptures this is the context, but I know in many of them that's not the context. Many times these words appear in Biblical stories where God shows up and the person/shepherd/prophet soils themselves from being scared crapless. Then comes the command to not be afraid, and this command is often the very first thing said, even before identification.

This is really interesting to me. How often this command is stated depends on your interpretation. If you're going by exact phrase, about 46 times, but the similar "do not fear" pops up at least another 67 times. Both these numbers are estimates due to differing translations, but if you include other times where not being afraid or being told not to fear is mentioned, the number pops up to around 360 total, and that's based on the Protestant Bible. The Catholic Bible may have more, but I'm not versed enough to know for sure.

Do not fear.

It's a clear cut order, and one that often stands alone in context so it means that and only that. Don't be afraid, don't fear. It really bothers me how often that is brushed over and extrapolated from, because the deep meaning of that, the reflection on the human condition since the beginning of time, is profound and amazing and no one seems to talk about it.

Apparently I'm not the only one who has struggled with falling back to habits of fear and anxiety, it's a century old problem for mankind in general. I wonder how many people desperately needing something when the wander in on a Sunday morning would begin to find their answer in those simple 3 or 4 words.

Regardless of what you do or don't believe, I think the fact that those words are commanded by far and away more than any other in the Bible opens up an intensely interesting discussion on fear, on anxiety, on what that reflection on the human condition and human nature means.

So I've spent a lot of time mulling over that today. In a way it's a far cry from one of my favorite philosophers, Seneca (of the Romans), but in another way the two can definitely be related. There's no way I can properly explain succinctly how cool I find Seneca's philosophy. It's a form of Stoicism, and although I could see a thousand angry comments from this, since I don't have 20 pages to explain it, I'll use the analogy that Vulcans from "Star Trek" would actually very much be a Stoic-esque society.

But many of the quotes of Seneca that speak to me are about understanding that the fear of misfortune undoubtedly will always be worse than the misfortune itself. Basically, a person willing to use logic, look forward, and continue the pursuit of self improvement would never suffer as badly from misfortune as their fear would suggest.

I really dig this, and agree with it. This is one of those things where understanding it in your mind and translating that to your instincts and habits can be two different things, but really, this truth is part of the reason that fear and doubt can be so insidious.

I've been homeless more than once. Now I was fortunate from the standpoint that there were safety nets in place for me of a sort all but one time, and that one time I still had a p.o.s. laptop so I knew I could eventually work my way back as long as no one stole it. But the point is, how many people worrying about money now are in actual danger of being homeless? As in $0, nowhere to sleep, no way to get to people who would help you out, no direction, owning what you have on you and that's it?

Bouncing back is never easy, but it is possible, and you know what? It really isn't that hard to scrape together $5 to eat at Taco Bell if you have to. When you have to find a warm place to sleep, you'll be amazed at what you find when your mind is completely focused on that one task. There's so much fear, but once I was there at the worst of my fears, I still ate, I still found places to sleep, and with a little work and a little luck (and the two of those almost always go hand in hand) things picked back up.

And reflecting on it, things were NEVER as bad as I feared they would be, even when they were at their worst. Funny thing: the prospect of being homeless doesn't scare me one bit. I've been there, done that, and gotten through. If somehow it happens again (and I don't think it ever will now, but once again, life is strange so who knows), what of it? The reality for me wasn't as bad as the fear.

Now part of the trick to fixing my life is reinforcing that in other areas of my life. Don't be afraid. Be not afraid. Well, it's easier said than done, but it's something I need to challenge head on. That's it for this post, although I'll end with a few of my favorite quotes attributed to Seneca, and one from Michael Jordan. It should be pretty obvious who said what.

"Sometimes even to live is a great act of courage."
"He who is brave is free."
"The bravest sight in the world is to see a great man struggling against adversity."
"Courage leads to heaven, fear to death."
"True happiness enjoy the present, without anxious dependence on the future."

"You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." MJ

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