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This week's eNote
October 26, 2021 by Pastor Scott Blevins
“Do not be afraid.”
It’s the end of October which means Halloween! If Christmas is the season of peace and joy, then Halloween is the season of fright. Whether by horror movies, “haunted” houses, ghost stories or scary costumes, lots of people seem to love to be frightened. As fun and entertaining as manufactured fright can be, fear is all too real and can be crippling.
Frank Herbert’s sci fi epic Dune and the movie it inspired recognizes the reality of threatening, scary situations and the power fear can have to ruin our thinking and hinder our acting. A group of women in Dune called the Bene Gesserit teach their members to memorize and repeat the “Litany Against Fear” as a way to face and manage fear:
I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
I find this a poetic and beautiful statement. It acknowledges the reality of fear, but reminds us that fear is ephemeral and transitory. It will pass, and we will remain. This litany reminds me of what God said to people over and over, “Do not be afraid.”
However, as with all things that come to us, we are wise to sift it - keeping what is helpful and discarding what is not helpful. By helpful I mean, what helps us love God and the diverse people in this world.
The part of Litany Against Fear I find unhelpful are the last two clauses, “...there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” In the Dune universe all religion and all faith in God or some other spiritual higher power is myth and superstitious nonsense used by the powerful to control and manipulate the weak and the masses. The litany ends with “only I remain,” because to Herbert I am the only one who can respond to fear; there is no God to turn to. That thought - that I as a single human or we as humanity alone - are all that we have to depend on and turn to for hope and vision - that thought frightens me more than anything else.
When God tells us not to be afraid, he’s not saying, “You’ve got this!” He’s saying that God’s got this. We don’t have to be afraid, because God exists, God loves us, and God is the sovereign Lord of all the universe. He can bring good into any situation. He can redeem any circumstance, including death itself. In God is life and light, and life and light triumph over darkness and death.
If you find yourself afraid this Halloween (or any other time), may I suggest a revised litany against fear. Try something like this:
I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone, God will be. Only God, my sisters and brothers in Christ, and I will remain.
We all experience fear, but fear need not kill our mind or obliterate our hopes. Fear may tell you that you are alone, but Jesus said, he would never leave you or forsake you. Face your fear. Fear will pass. You, God and the beloved community will remain.