It’s Easter. In the Christian faith, this is the day Jesus arises from the dead and exits an impossible tomb. It is a rebirth, quite literally and figuratively. Friday, we watch Jesus die. Sunday, he is back to life. So simple!
As I sat in church this morning amid the fancy hats, shiny shoes, and sparkling vestments, I of course got to thinking. I looked up at the blue ceiling which always smiles back at me. It is a mixture of chalcedony and cobalt, a hue one only sees at dusk and twilight, and it curves (the way church ceilings do), before it rains down vertically to blend into walls that are peppered with sconces and carvings, stained glass, stone. I looked up and closed my eyes, held the image in my mind for a moment, as I tried to think about what life was like 2000 years ago in prayer.
People dealt with the same shit we do today, albeit in different forms. Back then, it was risque for a woman to touch a man’s feet. It was questionable if she spoke out of turn. It was a burden for her to bear. There was all sorts of hatred among men, between women, all sorts of temptation to be fought, all sorts of violence to be had. And it stemmed from pure and holy absolute and unwavering–utter fear. As a species, we walk through life with a fair amount of fear that is ultimately born of the need to protect the prospect of passing on our own genes. That is the crux of animal behavior. I’d encourage you to look it up. I can cite some sources from my extensive undergraduate research in case you need a boost. We are biologically wired this way so that every thought and action is supremely attached to increasing the likelihood that reproductions of our genes and DNA carry on after us. For what purpose? That’s another post. Today is Easter.
It is fear that ostensibly becomes the driving force for actions that we might otherwise not take in order to either not deal with the hassle of repercussions or to not hurt anyone else. Because deep in our DNA is the recipe for love as well. No one can explain where that comes from. But we are born with a moral compass that we pass on in whatever form was passed on to us, or (the real true honest hope is) in a bigger and more productive form than that which was passed on to us. Most of us, when we see a stranger in need, feel an urge to help them whether or not we actually choose to do so. Altruism is a real thing and it stems from the village mindset that enables us to help each other pass on our genes. This is how families, neighborhoods, towns, cities, states, countries work. Where are you from? Oh, I went to school there! I know so-and-so from there! We crave relationship. It is how we know we are safe. So here in this earthly form, we possess both things. Fear armors us, as I described in a previous post. It allows us to harness anger and umph to get our points across either intellectually or physically. It can be a good thing. When I am scared to give a lecture, I get to think about where that is coming from and I get to use that adrenaline to fuel my desire to get my point across. When my kid is scared to run that first 5k, she gets to use that nervousness to fuel her body for the race. When someone is scared of faith, or religion, or God, or beliefs, or practices, that fear can be crippling, obsessive, and truly all-encompassing. For some, these ideas create a real and honest perceived threat to their lives and the lives of their families–ultimately the lives of their genes. Justify I do NOT. Simply stated, fear is the ingredient that simmers and boils into reaction, or cooks and evaporates into experience. We move on from both of these things…in very very different new forms. When we keep choosing the former, our personalities whorl and distort becoming distanced from their true purpose. With the latter, we hopefully make different choices for the greater good based on our fear-fueled learning experiences. And here is the twisted fun human part: the form that fear takes (boiling all over the fire stove, or evaporating into the shiny stainless steel Bosch hood) is always ALWAYS a choice. Always. Fear is not a monster or a zombie or something that attacks at the pink full moon (did ya see it this month??). Fear is a fleeting feeling, the longevity of which is always a choice.
So DNA. Yeah, it’s a bugger. Sometimes it makes us amazing and sometimes it kills us. Have you ever thought about DNA? If you have, I mean REALLY have, are you still an atheist? Anyway, any given species is here for one purpose only: to procreate and ensure the continuation of their genes. I won’t stir the debate that has been bubbling up about the power in choosing to have or not have kids and all that jazz (which is a wonderful debate that I don’t engage in because I agree fully with both sides). I am simply citing extensively researched animal behavior science. Back to church this morning. (You’re picturing the blue ceiling, aren’t you.) Our incredibly rad and beyond intelligent priest, Tom, gave a sermon about “freedom from fear” that certainly moved the mountains in my heart. He talked about how angels don’t show up during the horrifying moments. You know, those moments when you physically feel your heart break, or when there is a natural disaster, or when you get fired, or when someone gets murdered, or when the wrong president is elected. Angels show up in the aftermath. They do that on purpose. (sneaky angels). We usually hear the messages we need to hear after these events occur. We often emerge wiser and more sure of ourselves and hopefully, with more lust for learning how we can improve next time. But I really got to thinking about my experience with this. The past year and a half of my life has been the hardest I’ve ever had. A bulimic relapse, an incredible heartbreak, a few deaths. It has only finally begun to let up, but it’s still difficult. And yet, there have been angels. Every-effing-where. Everywhere. Angels. I see them when I meditate and sleep. Of course. That’s a given. But I believe the trick is to look and see them out in real life. They’re there. Watching. Serving. Speaking. There are all forms of angels (they look like people, trees, breezes, ocean waves, bugs, waterfalls, children) but the way you can tell is when you clearly hear the message they are sending. If you miss the message, or forget it, they simply show up again to tell you but usually it’s after another similar scenario that you had to endure in the first place. It’s soul work, really. (Oh God, here she goes.) Wrong again. This post is about fear. Freedom from fear, to be exact.
Tom went on to say that during these horrific events throughout our lives and throughout the world if we were just to mutter, “but, God,” we would see that there is an order to things, even though most of this order can be beyond difficult and unfair. We would also see that we cannot get through the very very tough things alone. Some of us try. I mean, really try. I’d make a case for that being the exact definition of addiction. But, at the end of the day, we need help. (it is here where Steph mentions that you may want to read her previous post about faith). We need to know we are NOT alone either by friend, fate, circumstance, or some sort of omnipresence. We are naturally social creatures. It only makes sense that we want company. When we let fear get in the way of moving us forward, we become stuck, we miss the messages, we don’t see the angels (even though they never ever ever leave. Ever. Please know this.)
The trouble is, most of us don’t explore our fears and, as a result, we don’t learn from them. Can you please take a look at Washington with that last sentence in mind? Government is a small example of a larger world scale of how fear tends to take the management seat and rides the ladder all the way up to CEO until we are knee deep in wars and debt and obnoxiously tumultuous tsunami waves. Money can marry fear. They have a love hate relationship. Totally codependent. Both addicts enabling each other. The works. Greed is the ring bearer in that wedding. And, my friends, in animal behavior money equals property and space, which equals the ability to house more offspring, which then means the ultimate success of genetic fitness. “If I make enough money, more women will mate with me because they will feel secure and I’ll pass on more genes.” Sad and true. Money is, over and over again, misconstrued as property, security, fitness, all the things to which we can become addicted for one reason or another. And with the increase of money made is an almost equal rise in the fear of losing it. So people do nutty things to preserve it and, ultimately, their genes. They lose all sorts of things in the process, usually the most severe of which is their faith.
I’ll segway, (er, sort of) here and bring up religion. Not God. Religion. Fear is a big part of religion. Sometimes it shows itself in a way that translates to “if I don’t do this thing, or that thing, this many times or in this way, or in this building, or with this book, or with these people, then I won’t get this or do that or be this or have that.” Religion is a social construct. Faith is innate. Religion is ritual and rule and sometimes superstition. Faith is, quite literally, the absence of fear. My fingers keep typing things that I’m feeling are quite redundant in my flaccid attempt to avoid typing the inevitable point that I’d wanted to type today. Sri Lanka. Did you hear about it? I won’t poison this post with the details from that, but I think it would behoove you as a fellow human to look the story up today. I bring this up because here we have a perfect example of someone being actually imprisoned by fear. There is no freedom in the planning and ultimate execution of a massacre. To plan that, to think that up, to carry it out, that is prison in its purest most unadulterated form.
When I sit in church, the lovely amazing space that welcomes all people of all faiths of all identities of all orientations in the name of only love (and abundantly offers and gives them communion too because, do I even need to ask you?)…when I sit there, under that dome, bathed in the twinkling color of the stained glass that dances across my childrens’ faces, I have thoughts. Most of them are present form. Most are meditative, deeply prayerful, and wild human/spirit wolfpack thoughts that marry my divine purpose with my earthly experience. But I also regularly have others. I try to keep them fleeting, but they are very real and very raw. They are fear based. They come from my innate human need to keep my genes going…and my divine animal right to protect my life and those of my offspring. I picture a shooter, walking through the doors, coming down the aisle behind a spray of bullets that pelt these sweet loving parishoners with fear fueled fire and steel. I picture them shooting Tom, what that would look like, how much he would bleed, if he would fall right away, my kids, what that would feel like, my husband. And then I look around at the attendance, where everyone is sitting, which doors are open, which stairs are free, how large the choir is that day, and I devise an exit strategy. ‘In this pew, today, would it be safer to just duck under the seat or run for the side door? Is the piano a viable fortress? The altar?’ I’m next to the stained glass which I would break in order for me to procure a knife to protect my kids and myself and Jack and all the others inside this beautiful place who have selflessly helped me through this horrible year, and who have befriended me during the 7 years prior. The people who’ve sat with me for hours, who have listened to me, who have brought me meals after I gave birth, who quietly prayed for me without my knowing…the people who did all these things because they were so full of faith and love that there was nothing left for them to do but to let it spill over onto my plate. Before I get too carried away with the massacre image, I change it. I figure out how I’d be able to leap over people, how long it would take me, how much of a moving target I would be in order to dodge as many bullets as possible (I often remove my shoes during the sermon for this exact reason), and I picture my weightlifting hobby coming in very handy as I pounce on the shooter, bringing him to the ground, biting off his ear, screaming at him “Not today! Not this! Not these people! Not in here!” I picture the shooting stop, the ambulance coming, the tears, the scooping up of traumatized kids, the defibrilation of dead hearts and the ones that are not dead yet but are just in attack mode. I picture all of it, usually during the sermon, until I eventually catapult to present and begin my listening again.
Today when I catapulted, I heard “but, God” and “freedom from fear.” I sat with it for a moment. I prayed. I put it into perspective. And I thanked the good Lord that I live in a country that is free enough for me to (mostly) be able to choose where and how and if I want to pray. That shootings and bombings keep happening in places of worship and faith speaks to the sheer amount of fear that lives deep in the hearts of the people who carry them out. I can’t help but feel sorry for them. To be that embroiled in hatred that it makes sense to you to plan and then carry out the mass murder of 207 people who are simply there to love on each other, pray for hope, and abate their own fear, that’s gotta be one damn painful life. I don’t know why they do it. I can’t understand how a belief system or brainwashing has the power to override our innate moral compass in this way. But it does, time and again. I won’t debate about guns. This isn’t about guns. This is about fear. This is about hatred. Entitlement. Perceived free speech and “rights.” I don’t know what else to say about it. But the angels do.
The angels will come. Today, tomorrow. Your life is already full of them. Listen to the messages that come into your minds. The ones that show up over and over like that annoying overly concerned neighbor who you know just wants to help you but ends up talking your ear off. Get comfortable. Look up, around, down, upon. Pick a preposition and look there. Listen with every ounce of whatever makes you up. I know I will. I have to. Because I can either live in the image of the church massacre, I can feed that fear a cupcake, or I can choose to look beyond it, to starve the fuck out of it and show up for the rest of humanity with a hopeful heart.
The choice to look beyond fear is often more difficult than we can comprehend. We simply cannot do it alone. We think we can, but we often use substances or behaviors to get us there. That, to me, is equal to not doing it alone. But that is the wrong kind of ‘not alone.’ I know I can’t do it alone. I certainly can’t look to my old behaviors to help me do it either. Today I will pray, I will walk, I will spend some time in gratitude. And I will listen for the angels. But, for the grace of God, there go I. But, God. I’m afraid, but…. I can’t do this, but…. But, God. Spend some time with the feelings, but don’t live there. Look beyond and then climb to that spot with all the guts in your guts. Take your ropes in case you fall. And listen with all the ears (you know, those ones inside your chest and your belly when you ‘just have a feeling.’) I’ll be seeing you there.