“The psalmist doesn’t try to explain evil. He doesn’t try to minimize evil. He simply says he will not fear evil. …When somebody takes your hand in the dark, you’re not afraid of the dark anymore.” Frederick Buechner, Secrets in the Dark
As I write this (composed in 2017), I ride rapids of fear over a family situation. The threat of real evil and injustice that looms threateningly over many has telescoped in on someone I love, and it tests me. We all know the feeling. Off on the horizon of our view, in an unknown future, we catch glimpses of frightening potentialities, imagined experiences of loss, of people we care about in existential pain or deprivation, our own helplessness to attend to them because they are far away, our vulnerabilities amidst the situation. Questions around survival always loom large for me in such times. My sense of abundance wilts, giving way to looming thoughts of scarcity. Though I am not generally an anxious person who conjures daily worry, my inner survivalist comes out in paratrooper garb when menacing uncertainty arises. She has been hanging around a bit.
It is a wrestling. Ninety-nine percent of me wants uncertainty and threat to end as quickly as possible. But a miniscule part of me recognizes the life of faith is made for times like this, and thus, they are inevitable. Not only inevitable, but valuable. I am reminded of the Anne Lamott quote: “The opposite of faith is not doubt. The opposite of faith is certainty.” Faith grows strong and vital in thickets of uncertainty.
At times like this I have great appreciation for the fist-in-the-air justice Psalms, like Psalm 5 (“Trust in God for Deliverance from Enemies”). “Give ear to my words, O Lord; give heed to my sighing”—the Psalmist is angry at power misused. “Let [my enemies] fall by their own counsels.” In times of struggle, I also hold close the 23rd Psalm, repeating it like a mantra. The Lord is my shepherd[ess], I shall not want…. In my imagination, the God of the Psalm is an older woman, a visual amalgam of a few friends of mine. This God leads me through danger, providing a way. She is smiling and strong and comforting. Evil is taken as a given, yet the Psalmist proclaims, “I will fear no evil.” In my hundreds (thousands?) of repetitions of Psalm 23, I am less confident. I often soften the words to: “I need fear no evil.” Because the truth is, in uncertain times I do fear. In the 23rd Psalm, the writer takes no solace in vengeance or the false security of violence. They don’t ask God to smite those responsible. Instead: “I will fear no evil.”
A couple of decades ago, a mentor asked me to name precisely what I was afraid of. He explained that sometimes we need to name what we fear, to look squarely at it. At times, I’ve picked up this practice. Sometimes our fears are clearly irrational; and when we look at them squarely, we see this. On the other hand, sometimes the things we fear are real possibilities. Naming them reveals that even the possibilities we fear will, most often, be survived. In these scary weeks, I have been doing this. I name three possibilities that terrify me. As I name them, I also know I would survive them. I would be okay. I would be accompanied as I have always been accompanied; I would be provided with the resources to survive, as I always have been. I don’t say this glibly. Psalm 5 ends “Let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy” (v. 11). Our experiences of having need and being provided for gives us more peace for the future, even in “the valley of the shadow of death.”
Wren, winner of a 2022 Independent Publishers Award Bronze Medal