Courage does not eliminate anxiety, but bears it without fear. The opposite of fear is trust. If in the midst of anxiety we trust in life, life will lead us through any tight spot into a new birth.
+ Dear Friends,
Greetings and all good wishes to you at this season! It is a sacred season for many spiritual traditions, celebrated in many different ways. When i was looking for one theme that might be common to this variety of celebrations, the theme of birth stood out: the birth of new light in the darkest night of winter, the birth of joy, one candle at a time, the Christ Child’s birth at Christmas, or the birth of a New Year with all its hopes and promises.
Birth is being celebrated everywhere on Earth as a joyful event, and joyful it is indeed. But let us not forget at what price this joy must be bought. Every mother knows the agony that goes with birth, and the newborn, too, must pay a high price. My own poor mother was in labor with me, her firstborn, for two days and a night, and what finally appeared was not my head, but my right hand. Poor mother! Poor me! And yet, we made it. This, in fact, is something all of us can say with gratitude as we look back on our birth: We made it! Even our newborn lambs at Mount Saviour, still wet and shivering next to their mothers, seem to bleat, “We made it through all this anxiety!”
The word anxiety comes from a root that means narrowness, choking, and constriction. No wonder: Is not the prototype of every anxiety our original passage through the narrow birth canal? At our first birth we accomplish this passage with instinctive fearlessness; later in life we must consciously practice not to fear in spite of anxiety when the road gets narrow, not to fear when anxiety tightens its grip on us. We must distinguish between fear and anxiety: Anxiety is unavoidable in life; fear is optional. Yes, we can choose between fear and courage. Fear puts up resistance against anxiety and so gets stuck in it; courage accepts anxiety as a given and confidently passes through it. This doesn’t mean that the anxiety is now gone. Courage does not eliminate anxiety, but bears it without fear. The opposite of fear is trust. If in the midst of anxiety we trust in life, life will lead us through any tight spot into a new birth. Experience proves this as we look back at anxious moments: The more frightening the anxiety we had to pass through, the more liberating the new life that emerged.
Remembering this gives a boost to my courage amidst the anxieties we must confront on every side these days. There’s no denying that we have created a frightening world, but we can soberly face our anxieties and trust in life, nevertheless. Our world is in labor pains and the child to be born is a new humanity on a higher level of consciousness. If we labor as if everything depended on us and at the same time know that everything is gift, we may with trust in life anticipate the day when we can say, “So this is how true humanity looks!”
“Fear not!” says Saint Augustine, “All is grace.” This fearless trust, this openness for surprise is what i wish each one of you and all of us together at this Season of New Birth,
Your brother David
Brother David is the founding advisor of A Network for Grateful Living. He is a Benedictine monk, interfaith pioneer, author, and teacher. You can read more about him and find his extensive online archives here.
If you would like to offer a brief reflection on this Christmas Letter or a short holiday greeting for Br. David, you may do so in the space below.