Sixth Sunday after Easter
Anxiety is such a debilitating emotion isn't it? I am extremely supportive of anybody who is anxious in any way, particularly those of us who suffer from the appalling experiences of 'panic attacks', as you might guess I have had them, not as often as at one time in my past, but I know them for the destructive, terrifying experiences they can be. I used to be very envious of those who were cool, calm and collected, or had those sunny temperaments that always seem good natured even under stress, and yet time has also allowed me to understand anxiety in a different way! It is complex, not simple, knowing what any anxiety is about, facing the fears it brings, helps make it a companion rather than an enemy. If you really want to enter into the encounter and explore it with competent persons, it can become a critical inner friend!
How does this tie up with our scripture? I'd say anxiety is intrinsic to much of what was going on in the ministry of Jesus and particularly the confusion of people after those resurrection experiences and in a very real sense his ascension. You don't have to go very far into the Gospels to meet anxiety as people stumble with their belief! One of the greatest refrains of Jesus is the word 'Peace' and in John's account of Jesus telling the disciples what is to come after his ascension, we find him saying yet again: 'Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid' (Jn 14:27) If this was a given factor in their lives, then how can we escape it? We can't, it is a very real part of our faith life too!
I am appalled by certain Christians who treat anxiety simply as a cause of sin or unbelief, seeing it either as a response to our fallen nature or, if we become anxious, an emotion that leads to sinful acts, for instance, worry about money issues can lead to greed and avarice, (this being an example I have heard preached from the pulpit). But how crass, how absolutely unsympathetic, is this kind of response to those who really experience the debilitating effects of anxiety!
I cannot see in the acts and words of Jesus a condemnation of this emotional state, rather an acknowledgement that it is something that needs healing in mind, body and soul. This famous saying from Matthew 11 doesn't suggest a hard-hearted attitude to any of us who are anxious: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Mt 11:28-30) In the best sense, like that innate deep rooted autonomic flight or fight mechanism in the depths of the human psyche, anxiety is a pointer to something that we, or others with us, need to examine and deal with-it is in a curious way a back handed gift of the Spirit, and as such we can deal with it.
The sure and certain hope of the resurrection and the glory of Christ's ascension is about transformation and change; fear turns to joy, sorrow to gladness, despair to hope! If you or anyone you know is anxious then seek help, try to walk with them, remember that they may have picked up on something we all need to listen to or look at, and place your trust in that healing power of the loving -risen Christ working through you!
Saint Teresa of Avila
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.
Interview with Jean Vanier Dec 20 2007
Canadian Radio, 'On Being', with Kristina Tippett
'The Wisdom of Tenderness'
JV "So if God is love, it means that God is terribly vulnerable. And God doesn't want to enter into a relationship where he's obliging or she is obliging us to do something. The beautiful text in the Apocalypse, the Book of Revelation: 'I stand at the door, and I knock. If somebody hears me and opens the door, then I will enter.'
What touches me there is God knocking at the door, not kicking the door down but waiting. Do you, will you open? Do you hear me? - because we're in a world where there's so much going on in our heads and our hearts and anxiety and projects that we don't hear God knocking at the door of our hearts. So I'd say that what touches me the deepest, maybe because I'm becoming, myself, more vulnerable, is the discovery of the vulnerability of God, who doesn't oblige.
The other element, which is probably, again, linked to that, is that the only thing that's - what I see important for myself is just to become a friend of Jesus and nothing else. The whole I think of the mystery of Christianity is just living with Jesus the way Jesus lived in Nazareth with Mary, his mother, and with Joseph".
Fr Robin is an Eastern Rite Catholic Chaplain for Melkites in the UK. He is also an Ecumenical Canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford.
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