Do Not Fear
Yesterday presented me with two opportunities to share some reflections and experiences from my recent trip to Colombia—a morning sermon at the church I grew up in, and an evening presentation at a local fundraiser for the work of MCC. Wherever we went in Colombia and whoever we spoke with, we would ask some variation of, “so what would you have us say to people back in Canada?” Almost without exception we would hear something along these lines: “Just tell our stories. It is important for us to know that our stories are heard.” The more I have thought about the sights and sounds and stories we encountered in Colombia, the more I have been struck by what an enormous privilege and a solemn responsibility it is to be entrusted with a story.
Stories are easily misused, after all. Stories can be placed in the service of a wide variety of ends—some having very little to do with the interests of the people to whom they belong. Stories can be altered and reshaped to more conveniently fit into the narratives we prefer. Details can be added or left out, complexity can be reduced, characters can be whitewashed or vilified. We can import our own fears and reactions and lessons into stories that do not belong to us. The possibilities are virtually endless. You have to be very careful where and to whom you tell a story.
At any rate, my thoughts returned to the stories and the people of Colombia today when I read this prayer from Walter Brueggemann’s Prayers for a Privileged People. It brought to mind one of the deepest truths I encountered in the many stories I heard in Colombia, and which I have tried to convey in each retelling back in Canada: Even in the midst of threatening circumstances, it is possible to live without fear—to trust and obey and rejoice, to listen through the night for the promised gift of good days.
There is a long list of threats around us: terror cancer, falling markets, killing, others unlike us in all their variety, loneliness, shame, death— the list goes on and we know it well. And in the midst of threat of every kind, you appear among us in your full power, in your deep fidelity, in your amazing compassion. You speak among us the one word that could matter: “Do not fear.” And we, in our several fearfulness, are jarred by your utterance. On a good day, we know that your sovereign word is true. So give us good days by your rule, free enough to rejoice, open enough to change, trusting enough to move out of new obedience, grace enough to be forgiven and then to forgive. We live by your word. Speak it to us through the night, that we may have many good days through your gift.