“But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah,
because your prayer has been heard.” – Luke 1.13
The second invitation to “fear not” in the Christmas story again reminds us of the normal presence of fear in the human experience.
Yet, if there is to be any spiritual development among individuals and the human community, fear will have to be revealed as one of the primary blocks to any continued spiritual evolution. Fear, for all its positive roles in our biological development (such as pumping adrenaline into the neuromuscular system so to run away from an attacking lion), blocks the more advanced intuitive thought that is more expansive than the narrow constrained reactive thought when gripped by the rush of fear. That is one reason why practices such as Centering Prayer or meditation are so useful for nurturing our spiritual growth – they directly and slowly reduce the presence of fear in our system, opening us more to the presence of peace, a primary fruit of the Holy Spirit.
Developmentally, fear is associated with our earlier stages of human development, particularly childhood and adolescence. Yet fear still plays a powerful role in our world, especially around finances. When it comes to fear and finances, it is interesting to remember the story of New York City. It was founded by the Dutch in 1624, who erected a statue of Saint Nicolas as the outpost’s patron saint. Since New York City has become in many ways the capital of the world, it is easy to see the far-reaching effect of capitalism and fear. If New York City is the economic capital of the world, it follows that the economic system running the world is called capital-ism. As the financial capital of the world, it’s not coincidental that New York City, begun as New Amsterdam, was founded under the patronage of Saint Nicolas. Over the centuries, this idealistic outpost has become the commercial capital of the world. So, in one sense, our culture is built around Saint Nicolas, forerunner to Santa Claus and all that is celebrated as our commercial-christmas.
This commercial-christmas season marks the end of the year. It’s the time of giving, but also the time of year-end bonuses. It is a strange dual impulse of getting and giving, but that presupposes profit, growth and actually having something to give. One might even conclude that the shopping season that is built around commercial-christmas is the primary profit engine of our consumer based economy. Would most companies be profitable without fourth quarter, consumer based spending? Probably not. There is a reason that the symbolic start of the commercial-christmas shopping season is called Black Friday. It ensures companies don’t end the year in the red, which is a blessing for all of us, especially for the most economically vulnerable of us: the minimum wage workers.
Nevertheless, my conclusion about American culture, guided by our capital city of commerce and its commercial-christmas, is that we are still very much an adolescent culture – driven by fears, desires and the hunger for ever novel entertainment. Just as human beings have stages of individual growth, so do cultures, and it seems to me we are just moving into our teens as a civilization. Obviously, not all of us are still adolescent. Nor is every dimension of our culture still adolescent. There are many positive qualities of adolescence, but it is not the ultimate expression of human possibility – just one early stage along the way to fuller maturity. The goal is to transcend the lover levels of human development and integrate that which was good within that level into the new, higher level of development. This is how it is supposed to work on an individual basis, and it is how it can work on a national basis too. But it takes time, and one wonders if we are running out of it?
Growth can’t happen when fear is blocking the way. This is where we begin to see that it is possible there are “powers that be” that seek to keep the culture awash in fear so to keep the economic system going undisturbed to their economic advantage. But such an impulse is driven by fears – the fear of losing, the fear of not having enough, the fear of someone else winning. Underneath greed there is often fear.
What would the world come to if instead of fear driving our needs to buy, get and have, keep, defend and protect, we actually lived by the values of the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5 – 7), giving away and sharing as others have need? Somehow, fear has turned the impulse of Christmas from one of giving to one of getting, and this impulse drives the engine of our adolescent culture. While capitalism may be the best way to spread wealth up and down the social ladder that we have discovered so far, that does not mean it is the fullness of our human potential or the zenith of our spiritual development. I suspect it’s really just a mid-point. Something else is being born through the breakdown of our culture under the untenable weight of everlasting economic growth and profit at the depletion of virtually every natural resource we can mine, grow, take, eat or manufacture into something to be bought and owned.
So, we should listen to the higher being angel as an elder to our adolescence: Do not fear, just pray. Begin with yourself. Let a twice a day meditative prayer practice soak up the conscious and unconscious fear in your system. The more of us in which this fear-soaking is occurring, the more the future development of humankind will come to be among us.
For an excellent and helpful article on the biology of fear, click here.
© 2013 ContemplativeChristians.com. All Rights Reserved.
Filed under: Advent, Contemplative christianity, Peter Traben Haas | Tagged: Advent, contemplative advent, Peter Traben Haas | Leave a comment »