What scares you? Things that go bump in the night? Having your big old pit bull mix of a dog begin barking at 2 AM and looking at the closet door? That’s simply not okay (speaking for a friend *snort*). What scares you? The dark? The future? The past? Death? Life? For richer for poorer? Betrayal? Denial? Abandonment? For better for worse? Job loss? Job insecurity? Job security? Because you don’t want to stay but you’re afraid to leave? What scares you? Not feeling loved? Feeling too loved? Being in a crowd? Being alone? Feeling alone in a crowd? Doubt? Faith? Nothingness? Apathy? Empathy? Disease? Disrespect? Being dissed? I know, I know, that term went out with the 90’s. Being out of touch? Out of time? Out of sorts?
It seems like a great day to talk about what scares us – it is Halloween and all. What are you dressing up as? From what I hear everyone wants to be Patrick Mahomes. A night to feel like a football hero? Zombie costumes are also a favorite. A night to laugh at death and scare the living? There will be cowboys and princesses and ghosts and superheroes and vampires and clowns, mostly not the happy kind, I’m guessing. A night to knock on stranger’s doors and have bowls of candy offered and tiny and not so tiny hands ready to receive in a ritual reminding us that maybe when things are supposed to be scary there is the possibility of smiling faces, a good gift, and a well-wishing for a nighttime of fun instead of fear.
When you’re afraid, do you move toward the fear or away from it? We’re told that in emergency situations when we feel at risk, there is a “fight or flight” response. I sometimes wonder if there isn’t a third way, the way of staying present – not fighting or flighting, simply staying and being present. Perhaps not when someone is coming at you with a weapon, but maybe when what is causing our fear is less acute. What happens if we stay quietly present when someone has hard things to say to us that may not be fair, but it’s their truth. What happens if we stay quietly present when someone on an “other side” politically or socially or religiously is proclaiming in all confidence why their system of understanding and experience is all right and ours is all wrong. What happens if we stay quietly present while someone simply vents anything and everything that has ever bothered them about the world and God and maybe even we who are standing in front of them listening? Does our quiet presence change the tenor, the anxiety, and maybe even the fear? Might it change the nature of the conversation in a way that invites mutual interaction rather than polarizing rhetoric that no one hears or assimilates when feeling under attack? It’s part of the genius of Jesus and it’s true whether you believe he is the Messiah or not. He consistently stays present as a response rather than a reaction. He does overturn the tables of the money changers, but beyond that, his response to friend and foe alike is to stay present, to listen, and most often to ask questions that change the momentum, perspective, and fearful anxiety present in the situation. His method of persuasion is less about confrontation and more about inviting and offering folk the possibility of honestly thinking for themselves what meaning in a situation connects with the truth and reality of their life and the life of those around them.
Tiny kids dressed up in all kinds of costumes on Halloween knock on doors and recite a phrase many of them have no understanding of because they trust that they will receive something good from a generous stranger. What an odd ritual, when you think about it. And those strangers who open the doors, for the most part, are present with a smiling face, a bowl of candy, words about how wonderful or cute or scary their costumes are, and a “Happy Halloween!” as a send-off. There might be a tiny hope inside the candy-givers that the trick-or-treaters run out before the candy (maybe that’s just me) but all in all, it’s about being present, offering welcome, and extending generosity. Not a bad reason to celebrate a holiday.