I made myself think about how anxiety feels. Here is what I came up with: that uneasy terrain of the mind making our steps tentative and our ears overly sensitive, so that nouns and verbs are barbed wires in our souls.
When we are anxious we doubt our ability to decide things, we worry about what others are saying, we may wish we could hide away somewhere, somewhere away from the threats to our well-being. These feelings come to us all for one reason or another.
When people of faith face anxiety sometimes we reach for comforting and familiar words from scripture like “I will be with you where ever you go” or “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.” But sometimes those words don’t help. In fact, I’ve heard many people talk about how those words become thin and even repulsive.
Christianity has been accused of being an over-talkative religion. Words, words, so many words. Brennan Manning once wrote that when he was a young priest teaching theology in a university that he expounded on the mystery of God so much that after one semester there was no mystery left. Yes, maybe sometimes we talk too much.
One of the most remarkable ideas of the Christian faith is “the word made flesh.” And it didn’t end with Jesus. It’s a lot like the ‘when the rubber meets the road’, or ‘when the work gets serious,’ or ‘live-action footage.’ Simply put, when words turn into action. So a good question to ask when we read old familiar words like “God will be with you wherever you go” is “How is that?” How is it that God is with me/us?
I’m thinking about stories of people doing hard things, challenging injustice, being resilient, and starting again and again after failure. I’m thinking about resisting the urge to judge things we know little about, and about finding the courage to say it when something is wrong. I’m thinking about Montgomery Alabama electing the first black mayor in the city’s history and about that courtroom hug that went viral. And, I’m thinking about a woman I know who has very little money but who contributes dollars and nickels and dimes to causes that do good. All that seems like God to me.
Anxiety is a real feeling and it needs our care. Reaching for words about God’s presence is really a good thing, but let’s mine the depths of what that means, let’s reflect on those stories of the word made flesh. We will need to open our eyes and our hearts, but the Presence is not far away. In making the point that religion is not something you believe but rather what people do, Jonathan Sacks quotes Martin Buber:
“God is not found in holy books. God is not found in the heart of the most fervent believer. God is found between people.”