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Friday, December 26, 2008

Be Not Afraid

I'm still reading Timothy Radcliffe's book, What is the Point of Being a Christian, and came to an interesting chapter titled "Be Not Afraid". In writing about how to be brave, he mentions that only those who are aware of their vulnerability can be so, and then he goes on to talk about spiders :) Here's part of it ......

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The first stage in becoming brave is liberation from unreal fears, from being afraid of things that are not really dangerous. Most of us are haunted by fears that are unfounded, or neurotic. For example, most members of my family are arachnophobic. Introduce a few spiders into a room full of Radcliffes and the result will not be edifying! We all know perfectly well that it has nothing to do with any real harm that spiders in England could ever do to us: it is a phobia that projects upon spiders a threat that they do not pose. At first I used to dread travelling around parts of Africa and Asia where I regularly had to encounter ghastly spiders: bird eating spiders, tarantulas, black widows, the lot! I can bear witness to the fact that this is an effective if unpleasant cure. One has to open one's eyes to see that spiders are just spiders and nothing else. Of course, if these fears are an illness, such as agoraphobia or claustrophobia, then to be inflicted by them is not a form of cowardice at all. Some of the bravest people that I have ever met have struggled with such phobias.

The prisoners on Robben Island in South Africa, who had opposed apartheid, gave each other courage by sharing their favorite passages of Shakespeare. Nelson Mandela's was from Julius Caesar: 'Cowards die many times before their deaths.' Cowardice may entrap us in an imaginary world filled with life-threatening dangers. Courage begins in the search for objectivity in the face of danger. Many Christians face real danger every day. On 12 February 2005, gunmen shot down Sister Dorothy Stang, a Notre Dame sister, who had been defending the rights of poor settlers from the big landowners in the Brazilian Amazon. The next on the hit list is a French Dominican, Henri Burin de Roziers, who has been trying to take landowners to court who enslave and kill their workers. They have put a price of $30,000 on his head. Henri insists that the threats are exaggerated, and 'I'm not afraid of dying. I am 75 and I have lived a long life.' When I stayed with him he lent me his room for the night. He did not sleep because it suddenly occurred to him that if they tried to get him that night, then they might kill me instead, which would be embarrassing. Fortunately the same idea did not occur to me. How can we learn such a courage, liberating us from servile fear?

At the crux of our faith is the cross, the image of an utterly vulnerable person, hurt unto death. But when Jesus is risen from the dead, the wounds are still there. In Luke's Gospel he says, 'See my hands and feet, that it is I myself' (24.39). And in John's account of the resurrection, 'Jesus came and stood among them and said to them "Peace be with you." When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side' (20.19f.). When Thomas returns, all he demands is to see and touch the wounds of Jesus. The risen Christ is still wounded. His passion and death are not just left behind, as earlier stages in his story, as is our childhood when we become adult. James Alison has argued that

the raising of Jesus was the gratuitous giving back of the whole life and death that had ended on Good Friday - the whole of Jesus' humanity includes his human death. Now what that means is that the risen Lord is simultaneously the dead-and-risen Lord. Jesus as he appeared to the disciples was not, as it were, the champion who has showered down after the match.

The third Preface for Easter tells us that Jesus is 'still our priest, our advocate who always pleads our cause. Christ is the victim who dies no more, the Lamb once slain who lives forever.' The original Latin is more paradoxical: Jesus is 'agnus qui vivit semper occisus'; 'the lamb who lives forever slain'. If the risen Lord did not still bear his wounds, then he would not have much to do with us now. The resurrection might promise us some future healing and eternal life, but it would leave us now alone in our present hurting. But because of Easter Day we already share in the victory. He still shares our wounds and we already share his victory of death. We too are now wounded and healed. When Brian Pierce OP first went to Peruvian Andes, he was surprised by the ubiquitous images of the crucified Christ, covered with blood. It seemed as if the faith of these indigenous people stopped prior to the resurrection and they were left only with images of defeat. But he learned that he was wrong. These crosses are signs of how the risen Christ is now sharing their crucifixion. We can have courage and risk getting hurt.

Charles Peguy, the French writer, told the story of a man who died and went to heaven. When he met the recording angel he was asked, 'Show me your wounds.' And he replied, 'Wounds? I have not got any.' And the angel said, 'Did you never think that anything was worth fighting for?'

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