Fear is a powerful motivator. It can also be a powerful de-motivator.
Just a short time ago, the declaration of a Pandemic sent waves of fear around the world and within weeks produced a set of circumstances very view people could have imagined. Significant parts of the world went into lockdown. Along with the loss of life, the economic devastation has been enormous; especially in poorer communities that rely so heavily upon tourism for income. A friend of mine who operates a taxi in Phuket was telling me this week that he has had no income for 3 months.
But as we begin to move out of ‘social isolation’ the fears that shut us down, are also, quite appropriately and understandably, holding us back from opening up again.
So, we find ourselves in what is known as a liminal space – a ‘crossing over’ space. Can I risk it? Is it worth the risk? If I don’t go soon, will I ever go out again?
All very ‘normal’ responses, and over time some things will feel familiar again.
The nature of fear
Over the last few weeks, I’ve found myself thinking quite a bit about the nature of fear. Where it comes from and what it can do both negatively and positively. So, let me tell you a story from the other day about fear.
Last Saturday I spent the morning going through some boxes in the garage. I had packed and marked them when we moved house 2 years ago. I knew I wouldn’t need what was in them but I packed them anyway. I just couldn’t bring myself to throwing them into the bin. It would have been a bit like discarding a piece of myself.
One of the boxes contained little A4 exercise books from when I was studying for the ministry. I became curious and flicked through one of them. I started reading a few pages of handwritten notes taken during a semester on the Hebrew Prophet Amos. Within minutes I was 28 again and sitting in a small meeting room, listening with so much concentration to Dr Ernest Moore. He was our tutor on the Hebrew texts. A short stocky elderly man with a gnomish-beard, impish smile and light grey eyes that glistened with life. He seldom sat down to teach. He would walk around the room and talk. Sometimes he would read a piece of text and then say nothing. None of us would interrupt the silence. We just waited. We knew that he was ‘chewing’ on something profound and that what was coming next was going to be worth more than gold.
He ‘loved’ the Prophet Amos with an obvious passion; especially the poetic ways in which Amos captured the moment in time. He regarded Amos as fearless in the face of power, and that he recognised that some values needed to rise above national interest. Corruption is a primary example. Amos railed against corruption and saw it as one of the most significant moral flaws in humankind – taking advantage of and exploiting others for personal benefit.
Ernie would read a line of text like this one (below) in Hebrew and then in English, and then pause:
‘Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land’.
Sometimes Ernie would cry. He would say things like, “try for a moment to imagine the kind of courage it takes to stand up and say these words to the high priest: to someone who has the power to kill you”. “What we are hearing here, is the deep deep longing for people to be treated with respect”.
Then he would say,”your exercise for this week is…….”. And after this particular session ( the one I was reading again as if for the first time) he said, “I want you to write a poem about fear”.
Here’s the poem that I wrote that week, transcribed from smudgy biro into Gabriola 12 font:
Some fears are imagined
Other fears are real.
But even the imagined ones are real.
Or they were once upon a time.
And maybe again.
The experience of them lurking like shadows in the memory of a child.
Always ready, to rise up from deep deep places
Ready to pounce upon whatever might be.
Holding back possibility
And in the quietest of voices
Whispering like screams
Think before you leap
Then I leapt
Into the great known
And the shadows began to fade
Never disappearing – just fading
Losing their strength
Losing their voice
Unable, perhaps no longer willing to pounce
And with every leap
Then I leap again
Into the great unknown.