You Know That Fear Thing

Having a religious upbringing didn’t give me the tools to reconcile faith and fear.

Faith and fear were considered mutually exclusive. Faith

In fact, I can recall sermons where I was told that lack of faith was sinful. I can even find the relevant scripture.

So all in all, to doubt or to be afraid was to sin.

Which creates a contradiction.

Because the opposite of fear is not faith. It’s blind faith. It’s false belief. As James Carse wrote in The Religious Case Against Belief, blind faith is actually wilful ignorance: that ability to ignore anything that might create any doubt in your own mind. Such ignorance is a basic human flaw. It is at the heart of intolerance and the failure to learn from one’s mistakes.

My problem is that blind faith or wilful ignorance has never worked for me. I’m too doubtful. I’m too curious. I struggle to be intolerant and ignorant. I make too many mistakes and need to learn from them.

It’s true that doubt for me can lead to fear. But once fear and doubt is accepted, a different path emerges. It isn’t a path of ignorance and/or intolerance. It isn’t an easy path. Yet on that path is surprise and joy. And that path is lit by an incurable curiosity. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, curiosity is the cure for boredom, but it is a graceful antidote to doubt and ignorance. And that non-easy path includes mistakes. Much like my favourite bad fortune cookie: “You always learn from your mistakes: You will learn a lot today”. Every single moment of every single day. Learn from it and resume the path.

Yet to continue that walk, I need self-acceptance, ongoing self-knowledge and true self-love. Or perhaps better put, self-faith, self-hope and true self-love (none of which is new-fangled anyway).

So how do I reconcile the contradiction of faith versus fear?Ready for the Path?

It’s true that fear and doubt can certainly overwhelm and overcome faith. I’ve learnt that.

Yet for faith to be successful, it must encompass and then accept doubt. As above.

Yet that acceptance of doubt doesn’t guarantee ultimate success. Otherwise, I would live my life relying on fortune cookies.

Many times faith doesn’t grant you what you want: it removes what you thought you wanted and replaces that with something better. And almost always at a different time and place than you expected.

You know that doubt thing: it’s not going away! It’s no easy walk. But it beats standing still.

When The Fear Came

I’m woken this time by light not sound. It’s about 1 or 2 in the morning. I’ve left the bedside lamp on. I’ve forgotten to turn it off again and the glare has woken me up.  I opt to try to go back to sleep. I reach across to turn it off.

Except I can’t. I’m frozen. I’m like a cat crouched ready to leap. But at what? And why? As I stay still I become aware of something. I’m not sure what it is exactly. I wait and calm myself some more. It’s fear. I can feel fear. There’s fear in the room. I slowly realise that  it’s not me. I wait a little. I tell it to go away. I wait some more. But it doesn’t. It is more insistent and urgent than ever.

I’m now fully alert. I’m now more than a little alarmed.  It’s still there. I can feel my response to it. It is like electricity coursing through me. As I cannot go back  to sleep, I decide to keep it at bay. I end up staying with the fear until I fall asleep. Until that moment, I felt like I’m on-call again waiting for the emergency call-out.

I put it aside. A few days afterward I receive a phone call. It’s bad news. There has been a fire at my ex-wife’s place. But it’s not the worst news. I am then assured that everything is fine. There follows a somewhat fragmented story.

Someone had tried to set fire to the house. Fortunately that lit fire had failed to take hold. Even better the smoke alarms had gone off. That was enough for my sons and ex-wife to wake and escape quickly. Nearby the neighbours had called the fire brigade who had arrived promptly and put out the fire. I feel the energy drain out of me in relief.  then a thought occurs to me.

I ask, “When did this happen?” I’m told the exact date. Then I ask,”What time?”After midnight or so.

Then I stop stock still. It was then the fear came.