An Age of Darkness and Anxiety by Lisa Hunt-Wotton
I believe that this age will be known as the age of anxiety. The world seems very big, very out of control and we seem very small and we don’t know what to do about it. The sign posts have all changed. The world is no longer a simple place. We don’t even know who our enemies are any more. It is no longer black and white.
One reason that people have lost heart today is that we feel both confused and powerless. The forces against us are overwhelming: consumerism, racism, militarism, individualism, patriarchy…these powers and principalities seem to be fully in control (Richard Rohr).
We don’t know what to do with our fear. 365 time in the bible instruct us: ‘do not be afraid’ but we are not sure how to not be afraid when every morning we wake up to a new level of terror and pain. Fear is a very real enemy that we need to recognise and learn how to deal with. Fear is negative energy and if we don’t know how to hold it, to transform it, we expel it. We breath it over our lives and it consumes everything in it’s path. We expel it in anxiety, rejection, hatred and by shrinking the world around us into manageable bite size pieces that we can control. Unfortunately this suffocates relationships and is the exact opposite of love.
People with anxiety perceive the world differently—their brain lumps both safe and unsafe things together and labels them all unsafe.
The very definition of spirituality is to be able to sit with pain. To hold it, to embrace it, to understand it and to allow it to transform us. It is the opposite to expelling. Richard Rohr says that ‘Spirituality at its best is what you do with your pain’. We are bombarded, literally daily with global pain and we are overwhelmed. We have no idea what to do with our pain and this is causing a global crisis of anxiety.
Talk to any psychologist and they will tell you that the fear response works two ways. Fight or flight. We use these responses to avoid pain. It is an natural inbuilt response to avoid danger, to avoid the predator. Think of a animal being hunted, its first reaction is to flee from danger, if it can’t, it will stop and fight. How does this look in our daily life.
You hear and see the fighters. They are loud and aggressive. Their opinions override you. They are the zealots. They are the ones condemning, controlling. They are always look for the evil person so that they can hate, reject, expel. They do it for all the right reasons and in self righteous rage. They get energised by having an enemy. You don’t have to look far – look at the American Presidential race and see the hatred and vitriol, or bring up the topic of refugees, the American gun lobby, ISIS or LGBTIQ.
These respond out of ignorance. They are often ill-informed and very conservative. They hold to their moral ground at all costs. Everything is black and white. We are right and you are wrong. There are good people and bad people and they have nothing to do with the bad people. They are the bubble people who surround themselves with other bubble people who safely hold the same opinion. The world is a bad place and we need to keep all the bad people away from us. Secure our boarders, send back the boats, get rid of the Muslims, don’t allow LGBTIQ people into the church. Why? Because its wrong and that’s enough for me. They are in denial and live in naivety and they like it that way.
There is a third way, Rohr calls this the way of wisdom.
The other day I took my kids and their partners out for dinner. The topic came up about the recent QandA which hosted Pauline Hanson and then the following media storm around the comments made by Sonia Kruger. My kids are all pretty vocal, so the partners sat quietly for a while and let the lions roar. They were enraged at the ignorance of comments made against Muslims. They were furious at the racism, the fear and the stupidity. I was trying to say what was on my heart but had to let the roar continue for a while. When a quiet voice piped up, can you three quiet down, I would really like to hear your mothers opinion.
My concern was that although I didn’t agree with Pauline and Sonia I could hear and see their pain. My question to my kids was this. Instead of just slamming them, who is helping them with their pain? Watching Sonia on the Today Show you could see she was visibly shaken and frightened. No one is addressing the fear or the pain. We are just getting fight of flight responses.
The third way to look at these issues is through the eyes of wisdom. Wisdom teaches us to see the pain and to learn how to process it but more than that, allows us to transform the pain. Transformation is always a process, it is confusing, dark, disorientating. The end game of transformation is that takes you to a place where you can comfortably hold paradox, where you can weigh up both flight and fight responses but see something more.
If we don’t transform the pain we will transmit it.
“The way of wisdom is beyond flight and beyond fight, and yet is a certain sense including both of them. It’s fighting in a new way from within and fleeing from the quick egocentric response. Only God can hold such an act together within us. The small self is always too small” (Richard Rohr)
I believe that the true Christ followers of our age will be bridge builders. They will be the ones to walk with grace, and peace and light to show the way. These will be the ones who are able to see both sides, hold the tension, build the bridge and allow both sides to not only meet in the middle but to transverse to the other side. To engage in empathy and to walk a mile in the ‘others’ shoes. Bridge builders are more concerned for the other, they see pain and they embrace it, they walk alongside it. This is the message of the gospel. The gospel that loves the enemy and embraces the marginalised.
Bridge builders operate out of love and love is the opposite of fear. Fear burns the bridges, fear build walls, fear isolates. Love dispels fear. Love is a healing balm in this rageous and enflamed society in which we live. Love pulls down the middle walls of division and extends the olive branch of peace. Love looks at darkness and chaos and sees creativity and possibility. Life is birthed in the dark womb. Life was breathed over the darkness and chaos of a world which was void of life. Life comes to a seed which is planted deep in the darkness of the womb earth.
Love sees possibility, life and creativity where fear only has the ability to expel, reject, hate and kill.
Richard Rohr Quotes taken from his book Hope against Darkness.
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