“I think I have been learning about faith as long as I have lived in fear. Maybe longer. Whenever I am afraid, it is because I am also believing in something unseen, and like faith, it too requires an agile imagination. Both seem to have a way of growing bigger depending on how much attention we give them although one seems fed by truth and goodness while the other is fanned by worry and dreaded ‘what ifs.’”
(Jo Kadlecek, in Fear: A Spiritual Navigation)
My 89-year old aunt has been seeing things, we think. First, there were the boys walking around on her roof and whispering under her window at night. Never mind that she hears poorly, too deaf to notice feet padding around on shingles, shushed voices plotting on the exterior. Never mind that its been over 100 degrees on the roof, a literal "hell" of a playground for adolescents. Then there were gypsies in the trees, a girl with a bandanna, weeping. And now, "wharf" rats slinking through her side yard, "big as a cat."
When I tell her that no one else has seen such things, that maybe it is her imagination, she can only say "Well, I'm not crazy." After a couple phone calls at 3:00 AM and 26 calls to 911 in a month and a half, I am not sure about that. Yet, thankfully, things have died down. There are no more emergency calls, as she has concluded that the police are incompetent. She stopped bothering the good neighbors, as "those people" think she needs to be "evaluated." Yet for all her bellicosity, I think she is just afraid. Phantoms have come to roost in her mind.
I doubt that anyone lives life without at least one fear, without some episode of fear. Whatever their focus -- death, penury, or a nameless anxiety --- every fear seeks to occupy our every waking moment, fill even our dreams. Dwelled upon, they grow, hulking over our day, a shadow over every move. In its worst case, as with my aunt, the fear actually takes shape, becomes a visible, audible phantom that haunts, that preoccupies and lives on the edge of consciousness, waiting for nightfall to manifest itself.
Better let Christ be the one who haunts. Jesus says that "perfect love casts out fear." The only antidote for fear is a steely focus on Jesus. As the Louvin Brothers concluded on their classic song, "Weapon of Prayer," --- "Still the helpful hand above, on the weapon made of love/And against him none on earth prevail." You cannot fight fear dead on or banish it with words. We fight it with Word and prayer, by going to the one who has already won.
I have been ravaged by fear before. In fact, I don't have to think long to find something worth fearing. Oddly enough, on occasion I have felt a sharp pang of fear on behalf of civilization itself, that everything that mostly functions will suddenly collapse, that we will drown in debt, that a hate-mongering ayatollah will unleash a dirty bomb on us, that the ice caps will melt and our great cities drown. Possible, yes, but irrational, a seed planted by the sower of fear, the destroyer of all that is good, true, and beautiful.
Word and prayer. A focus on Jesus. But there is one other thing: a remembrance of His faithfulness in life events, a going back to the memorials we set up in memory for when God delivered us from some peril of body or mind, for when in His good providence He allowed suffering and yet drew us to Himself and delivered us in the midst of it. The Psalmist repeatedly remembered God's past faithfulness as an assurance of His faithfulness to come. So too should we. As Jo Kadlecek says, "[F]ear is simply a spiritual memory lapse, a forgetting that God loves a human's soul enough to protect her."
The boys are on the roof. They whisper outside our window. There are gypsies in the trees. But Christ slays the phantoms of this world. They die in His light. Feed on Christ and starve the phantoms.