Today I want to offer a few thoughts which came to mind when I read the passage in Haggai. Haggai is one of the three post-exhilic prophets speaking to the remnant of the people in the Babylonian exile.
The verse which catches my attention is “My spirit abides among you; do not fear”. I want to ponder this relationship between fear and the spirit of God abiding amongst us. I think we all experience this on a regular basis.
Of course, we might want to be “spiritual” and say that because we have faith we are never fearful. But I suspect that for most of us the experience of being fearful is something that we do experience and live with. We may not get taken from our homes and exiled but we are human beings, living ordinary lives and things happen that make us fearful.
If we were sat together I could go around the room and ask, “what makes you fearful?” What disturbs your peace? What are you worrying about?
I suspect I might get a variety of answers . . . loss of job, loss of income, sickness of oneself or family, elderly parent, child having problems, school, things going wrong with the house, moving, flying to visit family, I’ll never get this project finished in time, I need to confront my boss about this, etc., etc.
Yet, the prophet tells us that God’s spirit dwells amongst us so we don’t have to fear. That is quite a thought! How do we make that a reality in our lives? If anyone has the answer I would love to hear it!
I wonder if we need to find a way to hold the two in tension. I find it helpful to accept that as human beings we are going to fear, we are made that way. Our bodies respond to stressful situations and chemical responses happen. In my recent studies on communication I discovered that even if we are only faced with a conversation that makes us a little nervous our adrenal glands react. Adrenaline is pumped into our bloodstream, the brain diverts blood to our large muscles, (flight response). As the large muscles get more blood, the reasoning sections of the brain get less. Makes it harder to think reasonably about whatever situation we are facing.
So, to access the other reality, that God’s spirit is dwelling amongst us, I think we need to practice constantly the spiritual disciplines. We need to make them part of our lives. The when we get low and are facing situations that are hard, we have the resources to deal with them within ourselves. The habits are formed and are almost automatic responses.
It was always quite interesting that when we were teaching seminars the ones on spiritual healing, prophesy, the demonic and spiritual gifts were always well attended. The ones on spiritual disciplines were the least well attended. Yet are so important. These are the practices which will define our daily living and responses.
Richard Foster (Celebration of Disciplines) identified the twelve disciplines as meditation, prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration. Others could be added nonattachment, mindfulness, etc. I’m sure each of you could think of others.
As always, the Celtic saints and Desert Fathers and Mothers can be helpful in aiding us explore these disciplines.
Michael Mitton (Restoring the Woven Cord) cites Patrick as an example of prayer. Mitton quotes from Confessions, “ . . . in one day I said about a hundred prayers and in the night nearly the same.” (123).
Mitton again, talking about the Celtic saints and simplicity says, “many who are wearied by pressures and demands of this restless world will find themselves washed up on such islands where they can be reminded of another world which in its simplicity is full of abundant life.” (21)
Gregory Mayers in Listen to the Desert has a great chapter on nonattachment. He illustrates it with examples from the life of Abba Macarius. Mayers says, “Nonattachment is the attitude that comes from the acceptance of the fact that everything about my life and in my life comes and goes in its own time regardless of my preference or aversions.” (935)
I could include many more stories of how the spiritual disciplines were part of the lives of these early Christians but this is long enough. Maybe someone else has a favourite story to share with us.
I will end with one of my favourite stories the journey of Brendan. The story is one that can be found in Celtic Spirituality collaborated by Oliver Davies. Actually, I’m sure C.S. Lewis used these stories as the inspiration for The Voyage of The Dawn Treader. On his travels Brendan faced many fears and hardships yet drew strength from the rhythm of spirituality which was part of his daily life. I hope we can all find that same relationship between fear and spirituality