Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Heart of the Thing

I had a spiritual breakthrough on Thursday.

Here it is.

Thursday, I was worrying myself sick over my homework and the perceived (and possibly real) inadequacy thereof.  I realized pretty quickly that I was not actually worried about the homework, but simply experiencing the raw fear that lives inside me.

When I was a child, I sometimes couldn't sleep at night, because I could vividly imagine enormous tigers lumbering down the hall toward me.  I imagined them looking, of all things, like one of my stuffed animals, which was sewn so as to sit on its haunches.  These sitting tigers would rock back and forth from one hip to the other, slowly progressing up the hall.
My family once took a dive on a submarine.  I cried the entire time because I was afraid a shark would swim very fast toward the port-hole, break it, and come bite my face.
I was terrified of escalators, with their metal teeth at the end, waiting to eat my sneakers and perhaps a couple of toes.  I knew it could happen; I'd seen a documentary once.
My parents say I have been afraid of things since I was born.

I realized years ago that a monstrous fear lives inside me, one that doesn't respond to logic.  I can often feel when my anxieties are concrete and factual, as opposed to when the fear inside me is just awake and moving.  But even concrete fears have the monster as their source, drawing power from it.  The simmering panic inside doesn't hear anything I say, from "that's not a likely outcome" to "nothing too bad has ever happened to you before."

Really, logic can do nothing against a fear like this.  Put simply, I could lose everything.  I could face horrible loss and tragic situations and a great deal of pain.  No amount of logic can vanish that possibility.  If I ever care about anything, I must fear the loss of it.
I see no escape.

But in the midst of my internal battle with the monster on Thursday, a quiet voice in my head asked, "Why do you concern yourself only with the far-fetched awful things that could happen and not with any of the far-fetched wonderful things that could happen?"

So can the antidote to my ceaseless fear be ... gratitude?  I've heard gratitude defined as being more aware of what you have than of what you do not.  My fear blows up when I am more aware of what I could lose than of what I could have.

Then I realized that the monstrous fear is born of a line of thinking that denies the existence of God.  It lives in an empty world full of death and devoid of meaning, pervaded by a preemptive pessimism, where everything I love is lost eventually.  In this world, hope for a better future, for a sense of meaning, or for a good and beautiful god is met with utter derision. My future is a matter of chance, and the odds aren't good.  I have only myself to trust, and the blind chaos.  We've seen how that goes.
The monster inside me comes from a part of me that doesn't believe in God.

But if I let my cognitive belief in God reach even to the lowest crevice, that fear is driven dumb.  Do I not believe that God can be creative enough, loving enough, good enough to hammer any loss into something wonderful? 

I don't have to see how that could work.  By definition, God's thoughts are higher than my thoughts.  It's inevitable, if he is God, that his actions (or his inaction) will baffle me some of the time.  His thoughts are higher than my thoughts!  His ways are higher than my ways!  If each of his actions makes sense to me, then I have known the mind of God.  By contrapositive, if I have not known the mind of God, then some of his actions will not make sense to me.
(Aside from that, our brains are a product of evolution.  A "logic fault" may indicate a real contradiction, or it may indicate simply that we're trying to work in a system for which our brains did not evolve, like a Euclidean-based computer throwing errors in a hyperbolic system.  Sometimes I think the reason I believe in God when so many of my scientist friends don't is that I'm a mathematics major, so I know how to believe in things I cannot understand, like i.)

The fear inside me may survive down there the rest of my life, or it may eventually starve and die.  But it's not suited for the reality I live in.  It's not suited for the presence of an utterly good God.  And now it knows that full well.

Thanks be to God.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder if such a fear is in any way similar to what prey animals, such as mice and deer, constantly experience. The world is full of things that are going to eat you: keep your eyes open and your muscles tense. Only in your case it has sublimated into very cognitive and sapient fear.

    Either way, I think you have amazing insight into yourself and surely with that and Christ you will be able to conquer anything lurking within.

    This shows a bit of where we are very different; how I was able to be so laid back and tamed (and lazy) while we were together in CS. I am afraid of very little until it comes to immediate physical danger. It is my goal to consistently be able to look into the future, see absolutely nothing certain, and bubble with excitement nonetheless.

    pax, friend.