December 01, 2007

Advent Hope

"Look, son," Cyrus said earnestly, "nearly all men are afraid, and they don't even know what causes their fear."
John Steinbeck, East of Eden

The days are long gone when monsters under the bed or in the closet caused me to be afraid. Even my sons are outrowing those fears. Unfortunately, childish fears are often replaced by grown-up fears, and grown-up fears can be just as frightening.

Most people I know are afraid of something. As for me, I'm afraid for my future. The future is largely unknown. Advent marks the beginning of the end for me and my family, since we are moving at Christmas ... whether we're ready or not.

According to Pi Patel, the protagonist of Yann Martel's novel Life of Pi, fear is life's only true opponent. Pi knows a thing or two about fear. Pi was in a shipwreck, and drifted across the Pacific Ocean in a lifeboat, which he shared with a Bengal tiger.

In the book Pi says...

Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unerring ease. It begins in your mind, always. One moment you are feeling calm, self-possessed, happy. Then fear, disguised in the garb of mild-mannered doubt, slips into your mind like a spy. Doubt meets disbelief and disbelief tries to push it out. But disbelief is a poorly armed foot soldier. Doubt does away with it with little trouble. You become anxious. Reason comes to do battle for you. You are reassured. Reason is fully equipped with the latest weapons technology. But, to your amazement, despite superior tactics and a number of undeniable victories, reason is laid low. You feel yourself weakening, wavering. Your anxiety becomes dread.

Fear next turns fully to your body, which is already aware that something terribly wrong is going on. Already your lungs have flown away like a bird and your guts have slithered away like a snake. Now your tongue drops dead like an opossum, while your jaw begins to gallop on the spot. Your ears go deaf. Your muscles begin to shiver as if they had malaria and your knees to shake as though they were dancing. Your heart strains to hard, while your sphincter relaxes too much. And so with the rest of your body. Every part of you, in the manner most suited to it, falls apart. Only your eyes work well. They always pay proper attention to fear.

Quickly you make rash decisions. You dismiss your last allies: hope and trust. There, you've defeated yourself. Fear, which is but an impression, has triumphed over you.

Every year, I give thanks for Advent, which comes at the darkest time of the year (at least here in the northern hemisphere). There is a lot of darkness in our world and in our lives, and a lot of fear. But Advent brings with it hope. It brings with it the angel's message: "Fear not! I bring you good news of great joy!" And as I begin getting ready for Christmas (we're getting our tree today!), hope grows strong, and fear ... well, fear remains, but as long as I hold on to hope, I know that fear will not triumph. With hope, fear is tamed -- the tiger is tamed -- and, though the journey is long and difficult, I will make it to that distant shore.

OK, this is an old picture, but we're getting there...

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