September 30, 2006

fear and faith


Bruce Larson, my former pastor at University Presbyterian Church in Seattle, used to ask, "What would you do in life if you weren't afraid?"

I'm reading Katie's Life of Pi and Yann Martel deals with this a lot via his main character Pi. Pi is sharing a lifeboat on the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger, and probably someone who knows a little about fear--and faith. Pi says:




I must say a word about fear. It is life's only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unerring ease. It begins in your mind, always. One moment you are feeling calm, self-possessed, happy. Then fear, disguised in the garb of mild-mannered doubt, slips into your mind like a spy. Doubts meets disbelief and disbelief tries to push it out. But disbelief is a poorly armed foot soldier. Doubt does away with it with little trouble. You become anxious. Reason comes to do battle for you. You are reassured. Reason is fully equipped with tthe latest weapons technology. But, to your amazement, despite superior tactics and a number of undeniable victories, reason is laid low. You feel yourself weakening, wavering. Your anxiety becomes dread.

Fear next turns fully to your body, which is already aware that something terribly wrong is going on. Already your lungs have flown away like a bird and you guts have slithered away like a snake. Now your tongue drops dead liken opossum, while your jaw begins to gallop on the spot. Your ears go deaf. Your muscles begin to shiver as if they had malaria and your knees to shake as though they were dancing. Your ear strains too hard, while your sphincter relaxes too much. And so with the rest of your body. Every part of you, in the maner most suited to it, falls apart. Only your eyes work well. They always pay proper attention to fear. Quickly you make rash decision. You dismiss your last allies: hope and trust. There, you've defeated yourself. Fear, which is but an impression, has triumphed over you.

...your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid, perhaps even manage to forget, you open yourself to further attacks of fear because you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you.
But if Pi dwells on fear, he also speaks of faith.
Faith in God is an opening up, a letting go, a deep trust, a free act of love--but sometimes it was so hard to love. Sometimes my heart was sinking so fast with anger, desolation and weariness, I was afraid it would sink to the very bottom of the Pacfic and I would not be able to lift it back up.

At such moments I tried to elevate myself. I would touch the turban I had made with the remnants of that shirt and I would say aloud, "THIS IS GOD'S HAT!"

I would pat my pants and say aloud, "THIS IS GOD'S ATTIRE!"

I would point to Richard Parker [the tiger] and say aloud, "THIS IS GOD'S CAT!"

I would point to the lifeboat and say aloud, "THIS IS GOD'S ARK!"

I would spread my hands wide and say aloud, "THESE ARE GOD'S WIDE ACRES!"

I would point at the sky and say aloud, "THIS IS GOD'S EAR!"

And in this way I would remind myself of creation and of my place in it.

But God's hat was always unraveling. God's pants were falling apart. God's cat was a constant danger. God's ark was a jail. God's wide acres were slowly killing me. God's ear didn't seem to be listening.

Despair was a heavy blackness that let no light in or out. It was a hell beyond expression. I thank God it always passed. A school of fish appeared around the net or a knot cried out to be reckoned. Or I thought of my family, of how they were spared this terrible agony. The blackness would stir and eventually go away, and God would remain, a shining point of light in my heart. I would go on loving.
Fear dismisses our allies, Trust and Hope. This I understand. But faith as a choice to love? Is Pi right?

A more germain question is Bruce Larson's. How would you live your life if you weren't afraid?

What would you do? Me?

I'm still thinking.
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footnotes: Life of Pi, Yann Martel. Harcourt Books, 2001.