By Amy Carr
In my early 20’s, my inner ears pricked up over a certain theme I kept noticing in spiritual writers ranging from evangelical Christian Walter Wink to Zen Buddhists I was reading for class:
The potential we see in the worst of human behavior lies within each of us as well.
Walter Wink would speak of non-violent resistance to the demonic pulls within us, as well as praying for and forgiving enemies.
A retributive dualistic view of us vs. them — we are good, they are evil — is psychologically and spiritually mistaken, and dangerous for our common well-being.
I find myself mulling over this idea as I recognize that I can be afraid and resistant around persons — even friends — who manifest destructive behavior to their own bodies, or who threaten others.
I watch my mind describe their troubles as “anxiety disorders.” And I watch my inner response of fear congeal, taking on a sort of fatty substance in and alongside me — as if unprocessed fear is like extra sugar that adds unwanted substance to our spiritual bodies.
I think about my cousin Fran, who was murdered by a girlfriend’s jealous former lover when the two of them went to his house to ask him to stop stalking them (albeit with Fran’s girlfriend bearing a hatchet). I think about the murderer’s story: how he was so afraid he blacked out memory of what happened next, except to grab the filet knife and rush at the first person he saw at the door.
We can fear murder by the unstable, who may act out of a mix of self-loathing and desire to push away or punish that which they fear.
We can fear not being able to help our friends or family members with addictions, or with compulsions, or with a difficulty trusting that they are worthy enough to forget themselves and just be engaged with the world around them.
On many fronts, I can recognize similar tendencies in myself, even if some surface more than others. But some are hard. I may desire to control my environment and hold students to high standards (and my spouse as well!). I may wrestle with various self-condemning inner voices that have a totally out-of-perspective view of things.
But the desire to physically harm another human being — I can connect with that only fleetingly.
What I do observe is that, in the face of life or death, fear seems to get a face. Fear arises like a third little being between us — something suddenly alive, taking on the shape of something abhorrent.
This is a step to demonizing the object of our fears, for in our aversion we lose touch — literally — with all the lines of affection and connection we may have had for the human being we suddenly fear.
Love casts away fear.
I feel drawn to meditating upon this mantra, as I think about how the limits of my empathy can generate a palpable presence of fear.
There is no fear in love: It is part command, part description of a transformative dynamic, this mantra of Jesus and of all his allies.
When love energizes us, the spiritual body loses the weight of its fatty fear.
A shrunken sense of fear may still be there (fat cells shrink, do not disappear), but there is an atmosphere around it — one in which we can limn what forgiveness means, for it creates a spaciousness around a person, so that we no longer see someone only in terms of their capacity to harm us.
We still must protect ourselves, to be sure.
But part of that protection involves knowing how we can find ourselves secreting the same passions that might lead others to harm themselves or others, and knowing (this is faith) that the Holy One is vaster than all the lesser spirits in us — and seeks us out as if we were cherished lost treasures, now found.