Sunday, October 16, 2016

Anxious but Unafraid





Friends, I think it’s about time we talked about worry.
I have a daughter who is pretty good about it – she calls me into her room when she needs “Worry Time”. We save up whatever has got her worried throughout the day, and then we sit down and she pours it all out. Sometimes she has to correct me, because I am not very good at platitudes, so she tells me what is most helpful for her to hear, “Mom, just say, ‘That will never happen, honey.’”  And so I do.

But most of the time, just sharing whatever it is that has got her worried, seems to take away the power of the worrying, at least for the moment.  And then she always asks me, “What are you worried about, Mommy?” And it always stops me in a rush of gratitude. Because it reminds me that we belong to each other.

For me, the most comforting thing for me to hear is not, “That will never happen.” But “Even if…” Even if the very worst thing that could happen does happen, it will still be ok.  
Even if, like the psalmist says, the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, that is STILL not the biggest thing. God is still God. Love is still the most true and first and final word. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore I will not fear. (Psalm 46) Because we belong to God and we belong to each other. No matter what. 
That is what I most often need to hear.

But oh, is worry a potent thing! 
Here is how worry works for me.
That terrible thing that happened over there happening to someone else?
What if it happens to me, or to someone I love? 
That loss – of home or family, of safety or order – flood, earthquake, war, famine, violence, I want to keep it far from my doorstep.
That unexpected tragedy that came out of the blue - that car accident or diagnosis - what if that happens to me or someone I love?
This terrifying and dangerous threat – ideology of dehumanization and division, isolation or provocation – it’s one thing in the hypothetical or in words, but what if it is given power, and action, and threatens me and my well-being?

I don’t worry about people suffering elsewhere. 
I might feel terrible about it, 
I might grieve it, feel angry or upset or compassionate or be filled with pity. 
But the worry comes in when I think that something bad could happen to me.

Worry always says “What if…” and then it shifts to the threat: What if…I wont not be safe. I wont have enough. I wont belong. I wont be seen. I lose someone I love, my security, my comfort, my place.
Worry rehearses the lie, over and over again; it whispers that we are unsafe, abandoned, futureless, hopeless and ultimately alone. 
In other words, we don’t belong to God, and we don’t belong to each other.

This is why worry is linked here with money. 
Money means security. If we are in it on our own, money is reassurance.  It means I have buffered myself from risk. I will have what I need – food, a bed, a home, a future. Because ultimately, this whole text is really about trust, and let’s be honest, Money is what we put our trust in. We trust in money so that we don’t have to worry. So most of the time what we worry about is having enough money.

So here is how I worry. I obsess. I read every dumb article I can get my hands on. And I can feel my blood pressure going up, and my heart racing, and my mind churning and my stomach clenching. I can feel the world around me fading out when I concentrate on whatever it is I am worried about. 
I think to myself, What if my worst fears come true? And then I google them. 
The news, the stock market, politics, webMD, CaringBridge – I feed the worry and it grows.

And while this is happening, the world is turning around me, like it does moment by moment, year after year.  The leaves are gently shifting into brilliance and color, the squirrels are finding their hiding spots for the winter.  Kids around me are discovering new, amazing skills, like standing upright and walking to their daddy, or cracking the code and suddenly discovering those shapes on the signs outside the car windows are words, and knowing what they say, or realizing in some other new way that their bodies, or minds, or voices, can do things in the world that have an impact and make a difference. And the ones in my own house are even sometimes inviting me to see that and celebrate or mourn whatever is real in their life along with them, but I am missing that.

While we are obsessing and worrying, new little people are being born, and rich full lives are ending, and every day in between is filled with all these moments where God is trying to show us, over and over again, Hey! You belong to me you wonderful, beloved person! And look, you belong to each other, all around you, all these other wonderful, beloved people! All of you, scared and longing and hopeful and brave, walking around on this earth like it matters, because it matters.

And here’s the truth about all the things we worry about: when the worst things do happen, the hardest and scariest and ickiest things have happened to us in the past, we made it through.  And what in advance had seemed unendurable, is endured after all, and worry’s “What if…” did not help us at all.

I heard a wonderful On Being podcast in which Krista Tippett interviewed Benedictine Monk David Steindl-Rast, who talks about the power of gratitude to reconnect us to God and each other, to ground us again in what is real.  But what stuck out to me most in this interview is how he answered her when she asked him about his perspective of living in a time where things seem so precarious and terrible.

We must acknowledge our anxiety about it. He said. We must acknowledge our anxiety, but we must not fear.  There is a great difference.
…Anxiety, or being anxious, this word comes from a root that means “narrowness,” and choking, and the original anxiety is our birth anxiety.
We all come into this world through this very uncomfortable process of being born…. It’s really a life-and-death struggle for both the mother and the child. And that is the original, the prototype, of anxiety.
At that time, we do it fearlessly, because fear is the resistance against this anxiety. See? If you go with it, it brings you into birth. If you resist it, you die in the womb. Or your mother dies.

So, anxiety is a reasonable response to a lot of human experience.
and we are to acknowledge it and affirm it, because to deny our anxiety is another form of resistance. But the fear is life destroying.

Anxiety is not optional in life, he says. It’s part of life. But we can look back at our lives, at times we were in really tight spots, times of anxiety, and say to ourselves, we made it! We got through it! … In fact, the worst anxieties and the worst tight spots in our life, often, years later, when you look back at them, reveal themselves as the beginning of something completely new, a completely new life.
And that can teach us, and that can give us courage, also, now, that we think about it, in looking forward and saying, yes, this is a tight spot. …But, if we go with it,…it will be a new birth. And that is trust in life.

So here is what I have to say to 2016: 2016, you suck.
And here is what I have to say to us: Right now is an anxious time.  
And most of us feel the anxiety acutely. All these ugly and toxic things inside of our culture, our systems, our very selves, they are leeching out, coming to the surface, and they are right here in the open, like gaping wounds.  We can see the horror we’ve practiced avoiding, ignore or suppressing, and it is really hard to look at.  And it feels big and sad and awful. It feels like we’re broken, a little bit.  And that makes us feel helpless.

We hate anxiety so we resist it, and we give in to fear. And worry is fear’s fuel, it’s momentum.  So in fear we might lash out at each other, or turn in on ourselves, obsessing about how our safety or security or happiness or precarious balance of equilibrium could vanish, seeing the threat all around us, feeding the fear, working the worry.

Right now we are in a narrow, constricted time.  And it hurts, and feels rotten and uncomfortable.  And we are resisting it.  Oh, are we resisting it. We are letting fear get us stuck, and the worry keep us distracted and preoccupied.

But there is invitation in this time.  There is an opportunity opened up in these times, to move from “What if…” to “Even if…”
By considering the lilies and the birds, by noticing and gratitude, we are shifted from worry to trust.  Trust in the one who holds us.  Trust looks up; it sees much farther and wider than worry, which can only look in one frozen spot with fear.  
Trust can look back at God’s faithfulness in the past, and trust can look forward with courage and hope, and trust can look around with eyes wide open, acknowledging the anxiety, seeing things as they are, but also holding onto a vision of things as they should be. Trust seeks first the Kingdom of God, the belonging of God that claims us and connects us.  The rest will fade and wither and die and change, but we will always belong to God and we will always belong to each other, no matter what it looks like on the surface at the moment.

We are in a series on Sabbath.  So as I say each week, when we say we are a congregation that practices Sabbath, we are not just saying that we worship sometimes on Saturdays instead of Sundays.

By practicing Sabbath, we are saying that as a community of people, we refuse to live fueled by worry and driven by fear. We will face anxiety and call it what it is – uncomfortable, terrible, painful, and we will trust anyway.

Sabbath is an active form of resistance to the way of fear, a powerful practice of defiance to worry.  In a 24/7 system where fear is cultivated and encouraged, and our connection to God and others is buried under noise and lies.Sabbath refuses to numb out, or rush past the pain, or submit to the relentless cycle of obsession and worry.

So when Sabbath invites us to say, I am going to step off the spinning carousel of chaos, and take a breath, and get my bearings, and sit down and be here, right here in my life, right now in honesty and gratitude, with no other agenda, it is a direct affront to the system of fear, and a powerful antidote to the cycle worry. Sabbath is such a potent and subversive move because it reminds us that we are, in fact, free, free to opt out of that game at any moment.

Because when we rest, we trust. It’s not a feeling; it’s an action. 
We actively give up the frantic resistance of fear, and the flailing of worry. Instead we welcome the anxiety, and let ourselves face it and feel it, as uncomfortable as it is. We recognize that it’s true, in lots of ways we are completely helpless.  
But then, something comes after that: the “what if” dissipates and the “even if” finds us and reminds us what is real. That despite what we see on the news and on the CT scan and on the bank statement, that is not the most true thing. “Even if” the very worst thing that could happen does happen, God is still God. Love is still the most true and first and final word.  And we usually find ourselves surprised by gratitude, a sense of peace, a momentary remembering of the belonging that claims and connects us all.

This is what it means to be people who practice Sabbath. 
We are people who practice trusting God with all our hearts, and leaning not on our own understanding, acknowledging God in all our ways, and letting God direct our paths, and in so doing, we will find healing for our bodies and refreshment for our souls. (Prov. 3:5-8)

And something else happens as well.  
Stopping, resting, trusting, makes space for the Spirit to lead us to responses that are productive, and faithful.  Responses like grieving – which connects us with the heart of God that longs for things to be as the are meant to be.  Or helping each other, listening to each other, or tending the earth, tending our souls- all these things plug us back into the real reality – belonging to God and belonging to each other.

Because when we remember the real, instead of seeing a crisis a half a world away and fearing it might land on our doorstep, we might reach out in generosity, or listen for the stories of hope and connection.  
Instead of dreading danger in our communities or vilifying those we don’t understand, we might let curiosity lead us to learn about our neighbors, or seek a way to connect more deeply with someone and their story. 
Instead of walling ourselves off in shame and supposed self-protection, we might find courage to reach out in our need and let others come near to us and tend to us.  
In other words, when we remember that we belong to God and we belong to others, we will live that way, and that can change the world.

Someone said to me this week, Why do we think worrying is fruitful, but breathing and meditation is not? Why are we so willing and quick to worry? But not to be silent or pray or stop, things that actually are fruitful?

So today, we are going to be a Sabbath people. 
We are going to actively practice silence, and praying, and stopping.  
We are going to spend the next couple of minutes countering worry with trust, reconnecting with the source of our being and our belonging, preparing us to reconnect with ourselves and each other as well. (And if you are reading this at home, you are invited to breathe along as you read).

Breathing Prayer by ab simpson

Breathe in the breath of God
Breathe out your cares and concerns

Breathe in the love of God
Breathe out your doubts and despairs

Breathe in the life of God
Breathe out your fears and frustrations

We sit quietly before the One who gives life and love to all creation,
We sit in awe of the One who formed us in our mother’s wombs
We sit at peace surrounded by the One who fills every fibre of our being

Breathe in the breath of God
Breathe out your tensions and turmoil

Breathe in the love of God
Breathe out your haste and hurry

Breathe in the life of God
Breathe out your work and worry

We sit quietly before the One who gives life and love to all creation,
We sit in awe of the One who formed us in our mother’s wombs
We sit at peace surrounded by the One who fills every fibre of our being

You belong to God.
You are loved.
You are part of God’s plan to love the world.
Be at peace.
Amen.

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