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Do not be Afraid

The passages below are taken from Father Henri J.M. Nouwen’s book “Turn My Mourning into Dancing,” published in 2001:

 

Do not be Afraid (32-34)

     If there is anything that has struck me while travelling throughout this country to speak and teach, it is that we are a fearful people. We dread physical need or discomfort. We fear for our safety and our jobs. We even grow fearfully suspicious of others and hoard our belongings. On the level of international relations, well-to-do countries, such as those where many of us live, build walls around our wealth so that no stranger can take it away from us. We build bombs to protect what we become convinced we must defend. But in a great irony, we thereby become captives of our own fears. Those who can make us afraid have power over us. Those who can make us live in a house of fear ultimately take our freedom away.

     When I lived among the poor in Latin America some years ago, I saw a people who lived in a different way. They had learned that fear need never rule. Amid torture and oppression and poverty were people living in gratitude and peace. I found less fear than in those living in countries such as ours, where so many possess so much. And I suddenly realised another aspect of oppression---the oppression not simply of the poor and downtrodden, but the paradoxical oppression of the ones in power. For the other side of the poverty of the nations of the South is the fear and guilt and loneliness of the North. The suffering of affluent countries such as ours---our anxiousness and loneliness---comes as a hidden consequence of our ignoring those who are less fortunate. It accompanies our unjust extravagance.

     Wherever we live, the invitation of Christ beckons us to move out of the house of fear into the house of love: to leave our possessiveness for a place of freedom. The Word became flesh and pitched its tent among us so that God could dwell in the house of love among us. And Jesus tells us that He goes to the Father to prepare a house for us, that we can make our home in Him as He does in us. “Where are you?” He asks. “Are you living in the place of love?”

     Jesus speaks to us in the gospel with other strong words: “Do not be afraid.” It is a word resounding through the whole gospel story: Gabriel said it to Zechariah before the birth of John the Baptist. Gabriel said it to Mary before the birth of Jesus. The angel declared it to the women at the tomb. And the Lord Himself said it when He appeared to His disciples: “Do not be afraid” (Matthew 28:10). It is as though God is saying to us “I am the God of love, a God who invites you to receive the gifts of joy and peace and gratitude the poor have discovered, and to let go of your fears so that you can start sharing what you hoard.”

     As we keep our eyes directed at the One who says, “Do not be afraid,” we may slowly let go of our fear. We will learn to live in a world without zealously defended borders. We will be free to see the suffering of other people, free to respond not with defensiveness, but with compassion, with peace, with ourselves.

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