Friday, January 2, 2009

The Fear

Years ago, I was bored out of my mind by dull, blank, tripartite sermons which expounded on the elements of fear defined as "holy reverence". Others, who dressed their words in trembling singsong oratory (but who would frown at the chants of high church liturgies), defined it in the same respect, giving God a conceptual makeover, the eyeliner of Zeus, the countenance of Thor, the rogue of Superman, the humility of Clark Kent and the heart of Aphrodite. There was just something about it that was so dry that it rang untrue. How is it that the word "fear" could produce such a stale and abstract notion?

The great revivalist, Jonathan Edwards, syncretist between enlightenment Rationalism and Protestant hysterics, saw fear in considering oneself an inch away from eternal hellfire and destruction as punishment for offending a just, offended, holy and angry God. The human spirit is the shadow of a spider about to be crushed underfoot, and Edwards' audience, besieged with the evils of alcohol and bad language, repented with fervor, some, eventually as "revival" spread, barking like dogs, and others claiming to levitate -- dubious fruits of the Spirit of peace.

So I was taught in my early Protestant experience that the fear of the Lord is mere respect, or dreadfully sensationalistic, depending on the speaker.

Fear God, said Jesus, who can destroy the body and the soul with it, and not merely one's earthly enemies, who can only touch the body. The emphasis to my mind is on the contrast, not the destruction; the capacity of God, not his intent.

The Fear for Kierkegaard exists generally in apprehending one's own freedom, the capacity for creative anguish or despair, and the experiential reality of possibility. This seems more in line with what the prophets had in mind. The fear of the Lord contains an awareness of not only the magnitude and capacities of a transcendent but immanent Creator, coupled with one's own awareness of finitude and the encroaching cockroaches of death, but is essentially rooted in the experience of God, and of understanding the possibility of losing that experience.

The experience of knowing God is a gift, one that can be taken away, or occluded through pride, self-righteousness, sensuality, short-sightedness, or mere lack of ardor. It is the fear of losing contact with the source of Being, losing the grace of his energies, losing an awareness of boundless love. Reverence is a side-effect. One fears this loss, and in the Kierkegaardian sense simultaneously realizes who he is as a person who possesses freedom, including the potential for love or for sin, for life or death, and for communion or hell.

So it turns out that the Fear thrives positively in possession, a zealous fear not of death, but of the loss of an interior relationship with an uncreated and undivided Trinity of persons, who exists in a co-eternal relationship of mutual love, always inviting one to share in transcendent love, and to participate in divine modalities that move in the direction of eternal life. One is oriented through such fear away from temporal things, the lusts of the flesh, the darkness of the eye, the folly which speaks in the heart of the fool who proclaims with profound short-sighted indignity, "there is no God!" Such a possession, the invitation of Christ to dwell in the heart of a human person, thereby eventually fulfilling one as a person, the personality of the incarnate God in Christ made manifest therein through the Holy Spirit, may be called Grace, and the romance of his humanifying presence is so sweet and pure that the loss of it cannot compare with any temporal loss -- the loss of a spouse, or of a child, of a job or of a passion (sins to which we are addicted and treasure). For those who know it and nurture it, the thought of its loss, the potential of it that exists in the freedom to sin as well as in the reality of our own sinfulness (an awareness that results in humility), provokes the Fear.

The fear of the Lord in its pure form is thus finally the realization of authentic personality in all its potentialities in the presence of the Holy Trinity. This,a fear which is rooted in love, and not mere sorrow for sin, or fear of punishment, or reverence for things holy (though all these attend to it), the Kings and the prophets tell us, is the beginning of Wisdom.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year's Day

My six year old son has lost four teeth in the last two weeks. When he grinned at me this evening, I asked him how he can chew! "Everyone asks that!" I was told.

The boys are happy, chattering, and in my four year old's case, constantly tumbling, climbing, jumping and moving...except when asleep or watching something stimulating on television, such as Scooby Doo.

The end of the year passed without much notice by me. I do not believe I have ever been to a New Year's Eve party. If so, I do not remember it. No waiting for the ball to drop. No saturnalia, music and booze. No midnight kiss. As a kid, we would stay up past midnight and listen to the Top 100 Countdown of the songs of the year, hosted by Casey Casem (who does the voice of Shaggy, incidentally, on Scooby Doo). My parents would usually go out, and we would get hyped up on caffeine and candy, blow up balloons, dance around. At some point, probably when I was twelve or thirteen, we turned to ritual (as humans do) and burned the previous year's calendar, month by month, reliving the appointments, holidays and birthday dates in a highly symbolic act. I speechified on the passing of time, emotion clogged in my throat.

Last night I was alone, watched a quirky movie (You and Me and Everybody Else), felt slightly annoyed at the guy in some other apartment who kept yelling profanities in a deep bellowing voice, then went to bed. I awoke long after midnight when I heard men talking outside my bedroom window, but thought little of it, thinking them denizens of the neighbor's party. Then, insistent knocking and pounding on the neighbor's back door. I went into the kitchen and saw a cop in the back yard stretching out yellow crime scene tape. Then heard another say, "we got her...Sarge, Sarge, we got her..." In front were about four police cars, one with flashing lights. The neighbor didn't seem to actually be there. The police were still there when I went back to bed and fell back to sleep. I have no idea what happened, but I haven't seen my neighbor all day. What a way to greet 2009.

I woke late and it still felt like 2008, but it didn't feel like Thursday. It felt like Saturday, except that I was alone, no kids. After the sun set I drove to Lawrence, worrying over the car, bills, my job, various relations. I put in a CD of Abbot Meletios Webber that I downloaded from the net in which he started to describe the nature of addiction, but forgot to continue listening to it after pumping gas, drove in silence.

My kids met me at the door. They never say hello. They always begin with whatever the big news is. Dylan rode his new bike today, and Jonah rode his (Dylan's old bike). Dylan lost two more teeth. Jonah created an outline of his hand, he "drawed it", of which he was proud.