“Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ” From the Mass
It seems that no matter where we turn today that there is a sense of terrible foreboding as events at home and around the world create a great sense of anxiety. Of course people in every time have gone through such times and Abraham Lincoln once remarked “We live in the midst of alarms; anxiety beclouds the future; we expect some new disaster with each newspaper we read.” Of course in our media age we are reminded by the late journalist Eric Sevareid of a truth about America “The biggest big business in America is not steel, automobiles, or television. It is the manufacture, refinement and distribution of anxiety.” Since Sevareid died before the onslaught of our information overload age which is driven by insatiable need to have information now and is fed by our media conglomerates as well as individuals empowered by technology that puts raw information at their fingertips which is then spread by the same individuals that thrive on creating more anxiety.
I have to admit that with the cacophony of bad news which has enveloped us in the past number of years which seems to have increased in intensity over the past few months and days that people are anxious about tomorrow. I can feel this anxiety in many of those around me and at times myself. It is easy to feel this way. Since Iraq I feel anxiety much more than I once did and I have to fight it in order not to cycle down into depression or outright fear. Such is life with PTSD.
We have been bombarded by terrible news in Japan, a building tragedy in Libya as Muammar Gaddafi takes revenge on those that dared to challenge his rule, distressing economic news, paralysis in all levels of government and a rising hatred of each other by the political right and left in the United States.
This has the feel of the 1920s and 1930s as world economic crises, a massive earthquake in Japan, and the collapse of existing orders and great political division and radicalism. Of course that era included so many events similar to our times and those events coalesced in the rise of dictatorships and finally in a World War. While events do not need to play out in that way it just appears that they might, if not in a World War a series of devastating regional wars.
We live in a world where we are confronted by evil men who through force and violence commit atrocities against others while others impoverish nations while enriching themselves bringing untold suffering on many, a world where men and women who allegedly speak for God commit acts against God’s people that would make the inquisitors tremble.
Yet it is in this world that Christians are told not to be anxious. As Jesus so aptly put it “can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” In our present time many are very worried about their material security and their possessions. In a materialistic age where the economy has been battered and seems to be teetering on the brink we find that the material and financial security that we have built for ourselves is fleeting. Dietrich Bonhoeffer who lived in similar times noted “Earthly possessions dazzle our eyes and delude us into thinking that they can provide security and freedom from anxiety. Yet all the time they are the very source of anxiety.”
In Lent we are reminded of our mortality but also God’s love, grace and mercy. In fact we are reminded that we are “a new creation” and have been “set free from the law of sin and death.” We are reminded that God also cares about the world which “in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” Bonhoeffer put this love for God of his people and creation well:
“God loves human beings. God loves the world. Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility, namely, real human beings, the real world, this is for God the ground of unfathomable love.”
During the seven weeks of Lent I am trying to focus more on being less anxious in order that I can be free of worry and maintain a clear and present hope for today and the future even as the cacophony of chaos builds around the world. I hope that during this Lent I will understand this prayer of the Apostle Paul for the Church at Philippi:
“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6-7 NRSV)