Don’t Worry. Instead, Pray.

I was already a world-class worrier
long before the current crises we face …
before the Coronavirus …
before the tornados hit my middle Tennessee neighbors.

I remember the nights in my childhood,
when I couldn’t sleep because I was afraid.
I remember my mom helping me cut out
a scripture passage from my Sunday School lesson.
We taped it to the dresser mirror in my bedroom.
“Don’t worry. Instead, pray. …”

Mom and I would read the scripture when she tucked me in.
I could read it in the night if I was afraid.
I repeated the passage until the words became a part of me,
until the words began to pray themselves in the silence of the darkness.
“Don’t worry. Instead, pray. …”

These days, I light candles.
The light of them shines
into the darkness of this world,
into the darkness of my worries.
The light says, “Don’t worry. Instead, pray. …”

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything; tell God your needs, and don’t forget to thank God for the answers. If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. God’s peace will keep your thoughts and your hearts quiet and at rest as you trust in Christ Jesus.”
-Philippians 4:6-7, The Living Bible

The Ungrounded Place

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It’s been a difficult year. (The San Bernardino terrorist attack, police shootings of black men, ambushes of police officers, protests, the mass murder of LGBTQ people in Orlando, a divisive election campaign and post-election turmoil.) Sometimes it seems like we’re in a national melt-down.

There is a recording that has helped me reflect on all of this. I’ve turned regularly during the last year to a lecture by Pema Chödrön, a Tibetan Buddhist teacher. The recording, “Unconditional Confidence: Instructions for Meeting Any Experience with Trust and Change,” has been very helpful to me in trying to get through the chaos. It has helped me examine both my own feelings and actions and also the responses of others. I share below a short excerpt and recommend it to you if you are interested in further exploration along this vein.

Pema Chödrön sets out Buddhist teachings on fear and fearlessness during times of groundlessness:

“[Buddhist teachings on fear and fearlessness are] the best way to develop courage … in a time of challenge. … Generally speaking, when something is really tough, when the challenge is really great, it can go either way. It can easily, and has, historically, … led to aggression and violence, prejudice (fundamentalism of all kinds comes out of this fear). You just want something predictable, something you can hold on to, and it often comes in the form of blaming yourself or or someone else or a whole group of people. …

“One of the big teachings of the Buddha is that everybody wants to be happy and feel security and comfort, and everybody goes about it in the way that just makes a big mess. … You want to be comfortable, and so you scramble for ground. And, often, what that is, is blaming somebody else, striking out at somebody else, gossiping, slandering. And it gets to the point where people, in the attempt to get some ground under their feet, to feel that they have something to hold on to, … people steal. People lie. People kill. People even torture. Generally speaking, no one does any of these things because they want to feel worse. They do it because what they are feeling in the pit of their stomach is such a groundless, insecure, uncomfortable, wide open, nothing-to-hold-on-to, open-ended experience, that they just want to find … something that represents security.

“And one of the biggest ways to do it … is to divide the world up with our views and our opinions about how things should be and how things are supposed to be. And we hold tightly to those views and opinions. … We try to get secure by [interpreting] the world in a way that makes us feel comfortable. And then, it’s great if you can get a whole group of people that will agree with you. And you, all together, start to attack in either more or less polite ways people who don’t agree with you. And it’s a big way that people start to get comfortable.” [This quote starts at 7:55 minutes into the recording. Unconditional Confidence by Pema Chödrön. Copyright © 2009 by Sounds True, Inc. This recording is also available on Audible.]

(Pema Chödrön goes on to teach Buddhist techniques of turning towards your fear in a peaceful way rather than turning toward anger and aggression.)

For Reflection: What practices or tools do you use when you are are in the ungrounded place?

Victory Is Ours

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I saw fear work its dark magic,
swirling into corners,
creeping through
cracks of doubt and uncertainty.

I saw its disabling effect …
confusion, division,
the disabling of
the previously strong and prophetic.

What has happened to us,
that we can be brought low,
immobilized by terror?

I went to sleep, exhausted,
hung over by the effects of
fear’s noxious fumes.

But I woke up
with the words of Desmond Tutu
in my heart and on my lips.

Good is stronger than evil;
love is stronger than hate;
light is stronger than darkness;
life is stronger than death.
Victory is ours,
through him who loves us.
– Desmond Tutu

God of Love. May it be so.
Help us, heal us,
fill us, use us.

Amen.