Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Loss of Wonder

Do you know what the opposite of fear is?

Put away your Sunday School for a minute because the answer is not "faith." It's awe.

I have a kind of fear of bridges. Not really heights, but depths scare the poo out of me. And every day, on my drive to work, I must cross what we call a "flyover" bridge on the interstate, to get from the northbound lanes to the westbounds. Part of the railing is open, and you can see the death-inviting traffic flying by below. (Not all bridges are over water, ok? Ironically, I do cross a river on that very same drive and that bridge doesn't bother me.) For several weeks, every time I would approach this flyover, I could feel myself tense up. I could feel the nerves building miles before the actual thing and by the time I got there, forget it. I'm panicked. Then one day, I remembered, I don't know why, what it was like to be a little girl standing on this or that overlook and what wonder filled my spirit to be able to be so high and yet, feel so safe, and look out over what seemed like forever. I remembered riding through the mountains in the back of the minivan, looking out over the edge at all the changing leaves, and being awestruck by the scenery. So I looked out over three lanes of traffic zipping under me, and I remembered that awe...and I had it again. I'm not afraid any more.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that no matter what I've been afraid of, the answer has always been to recapture the wonder of what it was like to think about such things before I learned to be afraid of them. It's like..well, ok. Here's another example: I've had a lot of exciting changes in my life lately, and these are allowing me to be the woman I always dreamed of being and kind of always thought I probably was if life would ever let me be that way. And when I realized now is my chance to be all that? Terrified. Questioning. Doubting. Afraid. But then, I had this moment of clarity when I remembered what it was like to dream about her, to even pretend I might be her, and the amazing peace and absolute incredulousness of that fantasy. It's come to life. So I'm not afraid any more.

You see, it doesn't matter what it is, whether it's a physical thing or an emotional thing or a spiritual thing. The source of all fear, at least in my experience, is the loss of wonder. When you recapture the wonder, the fear goes away. Now, it's just incredible.

Incredible is a heck of a lot easier to live with than intimidating.

But that doesn't mean it solves all of life's unpleasant moments. Wonder can absolutely dissolve fear, but it does little to nothing for aversion. It's important to know the difference so you know whether you're attacking fear at all.

Example: I'm not a fan of snakes. For the longest time, I was afraid of them because I was raised to be afraid of them (by a mother who was afraid of them, and a father and two brothers with the kind of humor that thought fear was hilarious). A couple of years ago, I made myself look at one. And another one. And another one. And I understand now the way they are put together, the way they move, the absolute wonder that is the snake. I'm not afraid any more. But I don't want to run into one any time soon, or ever.

There's a difference between not being afraid and loving a thing. No one expects you to do a 180 and start loving all the things that used to scare you; that's not the point of doing away with fear. We do away with fear because if we don't, it controls our lives. And if fear controls your life, there's no room for wonder. And there's no room for faith.

In a couple of weeks, I'm driving solo to Lexington, Kentucky to attend the wedding of a very dear friend (my college roommate). To get there, I have to cross the Ohio River. If you had asked me at this time six months ago, I'd have told you there's no way I can go. There's no way to get there without a bridge, so there's no way to get there. But you know what? Over the summer, I saw that bridge. Crossed it twice as a passenger, and it's beautiful. I looked out over the river and that old feeling of awe came over me. So I'm not afraid...and I'm going. (Ironically, and this is the way that fear is pervasive, I was traveling over the summer to my grandmother's house and crossed the Ohio River to get there. The day after I arrived for a week-long stay, the very day after I arrived, there was a news story about a collapsed bridge in Washington with cars strewn in the river below. Makes a girl who just crossed the river, terrified, wonder how she's going to get home! But that's how fear is. And not until it is replaced by wonder, by awe, do you have a way to stand against it.)

Tomorrow, I'm going to talk more about fear and faith because I think this is a common misconception in our religious circles, in particular. It's a beautiful image, but there is one very good reason why faith is not really an answer to fear.

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