Last week was hard for me. There was strife and I don't like strife. There were disagreements and I don't like disagreements. By the end of the week I was anxious and unable to sleep.
Never mind what's going on. It's nothing that hasn't happened before and it will surely happen again. The problem is that I let the fear eat me up, so much so that, not only didn't I avail myself of strategies to overcome it, I forgot they even existed.
Monday Jerry asked several of us staff to please reread the chapter of Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, specifically Habit Five: “Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood.”
I didn't. Things didn't improve.
But Friday I was talking with a friend, who thanked me for putting him onto Don't Bite the Hook, by Pema Chodron, a series of CDs that deal with overcoming anger and resentment, both of which come from…fear.
“Oh!” I remembered. “I should listen to those now.”
On Saturday friends arrived from Dallas. I'd met them at a conference, and we spent the day walking around the Ranch, getting to know one another better, and discussing our spiritual journeys over dinner, which thankfully reminded me that I actually had one.
Then this morning they accompanied us to church–St. Louis Catholic in Austin. I went in early to practice with the choir and on the way I listened intently to my CDs, beginning to reconnect with my saner self.
We'd assured our friends that Fr. Larry was a superb homilist, so expectations were high, but I must say today he knocked it out of the park.
The gospel reading today concerned Jesus sending out the 72 disciples to do the work of the gospel in His name, and bearing His authority.
When time for the homily came, Fr. Larry moseyed out into the congregation and plopped himself down in a pew next to the parishioners. There was nervous laughter, Fr. Larry being a stickler for liturgical correctness.
“Just wanted to see what it looked like from here,” he said. “Looks different.”
He then threatened to pass the preaching baton to a parishioner at the end of the pew, suggesting they “change roles” for a while. He backed off before the man had a heart attack then and there.
Assuming his normal station at the pulpit, Fr. Larry then recounted two stories.
The first concerned the battleship which received an instruction to change course. The commander replied, “Suggest you change course.”
“Change course,” came the reply.
“I'm in command of a battleship,” sent the commander, “you change course!”
“I'm in command of a lighthouse,” came the last communication.
The second concerned a man with three small children on a subway at night. As he sat passively on his seat staring at his shoes, his children ran amuck, disturbing other passengers.
“Really, you should control those children!” said an outraged woman.
The man looked up and said, “Oh, I'm sorry. It's just that we've just left the hospital where their mother died, and I don't know what to do.”
Suddenly, in both cases, as with a kaleidoscope turning, all the facts fell together to form a very different version of reality. The commander quite willingly changed course. The woman was no doubt suffused with compassion. The paradigm had shifted.
I recognized those stories right away. They are both discussed in, yes, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
“This is no coincidence,” I thought.
Fr. Larry went on to explain what a paradigm shift the commission of the 72 disciples experienced. Until then, they'd been followers, listeners, witnesses to Jesus' work. Now they were being asked to assume a completely new role–to do the work of Jesus in the Name of Jesus, empowered by their faith in Jesus, who told them they should not fear, because He would always be with them, even unto the end of the world.
After communion, the choir sang Mozart's Ave Verum Corpus. If I learned that heaven would consist of nothing more than singing the Ave Verum Corpus for all eternity that would be fine with me.
For post-communion, with the congregation, we sang My Country, T'is of Thee, today being the Fourth of July. I choked up on the second verse and scarcely made it back in before the end.
The recessional was America, the Beautiful. If there was a dry eye in the house, I couldn't see it for my own.
Guest organist Peter Guy, a hugely talented young Australian on concert tour, finished off with a postlude, Widor's Toccata. All of the choir and most of the congregation stayed around to hear it, and as people finally began to filter out of church I caught up with Jerry and crew. Our friends looked dazed, and Jerry quipped, “Heck of a show for a buck!” referring to an old stewardship joke.
Someone once said that the opposite of love is not hatred, but fear. Fear leads us to lose faith–in ourselves and in others. Fear cuts us off–from ourselves and from others.
Fear is the siren song of despair.
I say mea culpa for falling prey to fear, and hope I've learned a lesson this week. I give thanks for friends and faith, for my church and priest, for my husband's wisdom and patience, and all the good things that have brought me back home.