During this period, where we are unable to meet together in church, Fr Ray Hemingray has shared his thought for today, Sunday 12th July 2020.
Today I have two themes, instead of the usual one – Fear and Happiness. It is difficult to talk about one without the other, because Fear is the enemy of Happiness.
First, a word about happiness. I am currently reading The QI Book of the Dead. One of the people featured in the book is the Greek philosopher Epicurus, who lived between 341 and 270 BC. He believed that the most important things in life were happiness and friendship. Unfortunately, history has, at worst, given him a bad press and, at best, misunderstood him. In my Chambers Dictionary, ‘Epicurianism’ is defined as ‘the pursuit of pleasure’. So Epicurus has over the centuries been portrayed as promoting excessive pleasure in food, drink – and the other thing! Except that he didn’t. But it didn’t help his reputation that the inscription over the entrance to the school that he ran read: ‘Stranger, here you will do well to tarry; here our highest good is pleasure’. In fact Epicurus lived a frugal life. He lived on bread and fruit, with cheese as a special treat on feast days. He was celibate, and discouraged sexual relations amongst his followers. So we mustn’t believe everything we read or hear about him!
Happiness and pleasure are different things to different people. For some people, it is acquiring all the material things of life that they would like, or achieving things on their bucket lists, which they hope will give them happiness and pleasure. Others will be happy and content with the few things that they have.
Whatever level of happiness suits each of us, it can be destroyed by fear. Fear can come in many forms: topically, fear of catching the Coronavirus; or fear of death; fear arising from a problem (real or imagined) with one’s health; fear of losing one’s job; fear arising from financial worries; fear of the future; fear of failure. I am sure you can think of other things.
Fear can be self-destructive. It can cause mental illness. I read recently that 30% of adults in the United States struggle with anxiety disorders or phobias. Short of clinically-diagnosed illnesses, fear can get us down, preventing us from being happy.
So what can we do to tackle fear? Some people try to put their fears out of their minds by throwing themselves into something – for example, their work, a project or a hobby – that is so absorbing that it takes their minds off their fears, if only temporarily.
Some people cope better with fear than others. For some the slightest anxiety can get them down. Others are able to cope with what many would regard as good reasons to fear. I am reminded of the old music hall joke about a man walking home one dark night and encountering the Devil. “Are you in fear of me”, asked the Devil. “No”, said the man, “I am not frightened of people like you. I have been married to your sister for 35 years.”
Some people turn to the Bible when times are difficult and they are wrestling with fear. I once read that the words ‘fear not’ appear 365 times in the Bible. Whether or not that figure is accurate doesn’t matter. For ‘365 times’, read ‘a lot’. It just so happens that on the evening when I started writing this reflection, the Psalm set for Evening Prayer was Psalm 91. There isn’t room to set it out here in full, but basically it assures us that God will protect us. And rather topically it even says, ‘For he shall deliver you from … the deadly pestilence’, and ‘There shall no evil happen to you, neither shall any plague come into your tent’! Many people find Psalm 23 (‘The Lord’s my shepherd …’) a comfort in times of fear. For those burdened by fear, there’s Matthew 11:28 – ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’. For those fearful of approaching death, John 14 – ‘Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also”’. For those in danger, Psalm 118:6 –‘The Lord is at my side; I will not fear; what can flesh do to me?’ One could go on.
And of course there is prayer. Many people turn to prayer in times of difficulty, doubt and fear. In my ministry I have seen many examples of prayers answered.
There’s a saying: ‘A problem shared is a problem halved’. You could perhaps equally say, ‘A fear shared is a fear halved’. Sometimes, sharing your fear with someone else can help to alleviate your fear. The person with whom you share your fear – it could be a close friend or relative, or your doctor (or even your priest!) – may be able to comfort you, or offer you advice or an insight into your situation which may take away some of your fear. At the end of the day, we each have to find our own way of coping with fear. There is no ‘one size fits all’. But my advice is not to suffer in silence.
If you have a fear, I pray that you will be able to find help and consolation, which may bring you inner happiness and peace.
The Peace of the Lord be always with you.