Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Do Not Fear

Reflecting on the Watchword for the Week

Do not fear, for I have redeemed
you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
Isaiah 43:1

This passage had endless possibilities and I've heard it used in countless settings; whether you prefer to read it in the context of Isaiah of Jerusalem, or as the preaching of a prophet of the return to Palestine from Babylon, the words are some of the most reassuring, comforting, and encouraging in all of Scripture.

While 43:1 is in itself a great memory verse, most of us appreciate 43:2 as well: "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you."

Passing through the waters of our own deliverance from and captivity to panic is not easy and can be terrifying as we confront ourselves as we are, not as we'd like to be. Sometimes the struggle peaks after you have made some movement toward wholeness and healing, I don't know why. The demons of fear and panic that have taken up residence prefer the way we have arranged things for them. (Matt. 12:43 ff.) But we are passing through and in passing through the waters, God is with us.

Once we've decided that we no longer want to live ruled by anxiety and terror, it's possible to think that we have gotten in too deep, that our support system is not enough, that we are too fragile, and that we will not make it to the other side of the river's rip tides. You can do this with God- you are not in over your head, you will not be overwhelmed. That's the reality and the truth for those who live by faith.

The reference to fire not consuming us is more to the point since fire is, in this passage, probably imagery for judgment or trial. But the tense is future, not past. Here is not a reference to the consequences of unfaith and exile now passing, but rather, a looking ahead, when Israel is saved from being consumed by the dangers and obstacles that have to be negotiated in returning home from exile. Our recovery from fear is also a time when the old resistances are renewed, or may even change face. Not being consumed by the forces of anxiety within and without, we are in fact renewed and freer, stronger in Christ's love.

Protection from burning is one of the intercessions included in the Breastplate of St. Patrick. The danger of believing and living as a disciple of Jesus is present for us and more obvious depending on where home is. Protection though is holistic, and ultimately it's about trusting- resting- in God and in the peace of Holy Spirit for ourselves, and for everyone, not just a few of us. For God's peace is for everyone if it's for anyone.

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