I have a friend who, every year on September 1st, sends an email with musings on the magic of the season and offers an invitation to embrace change. She always includes the lyrics to “You Wonder How These Things Begin” from The Fantasticks with a YouTube link (https://youtu.be/9nSaxXh6J_o) and always signs the email with “Happy September. Yours always, The Fall Fairy.” I count myself fortunate to be included on this magical email and look forward to the invitation, although I don’t always accept it. Embracing change requires courage…
At this past June’s planning meeting, the Team chose as a theme for the year “Be strong & courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified, for the Lord your God goes with you: He will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6). This theme became the jumping off point for Opening Day on 27 September. During the Flock Meeting, as thoughts for the day were put in place, a video of “Be Not Afraid” was shown as this would be the song to start our prayer service. I became fascinated with the origin story of this song. Was this a direct passage from the Bible? If so, where? I did a deep dive…Aha! Verse 1 – Exodus! Aha! Verse 2 – Isaiah 43:1-2! Aha! Verse 3 – Beatitudes! (Check here for the real origin story: https://www.americamagazine.org/arts-culture/2018/06/14/be-not-afraid-song-eases-biggest-transitions-and-out-life). Mostly, I became fascinated by the phrase “Be not afraid” and soon turned my attention to the theme, breaking it down into three parts: “Be strong & courageous.” – Encouragement – You can do it!; “Do not be afraid or terrified,” – Comfort – Let go, it’s okay.; and “for the Lord your God goes with you: He will never leave you nor forsake you.” – A promise! Another deep dive! This phrase appears nine times early in the Old Testament, comes back again in the latter part of the Old Testament and, with variations, appears in the New Testament. It is repeated over and over and reminded me of a phrase I often heard from my parents while growing up: “How many times do I have to tell you…fill-in-the-blank.” Now this usually had something to do with something left undone or a reprimand, and it was usually repeated because somewhere along the line I heard what was being said, but it wasn’t sinking in. It made me wonder why BSAC (yes, I am abbreviating Deuteronomy) was being repeated. Perhaps because we hear it, but it doesn’t sink in…? This encouragement, comfort and great promise…?
The stumbling block, of course, is fear. Strength is about standing up, courage is about stepping forward, but fear…ah, fear. It blocks us in every which way. A priest in my parish would often speak about fear. He called if False Evidence Appearing Real (yes, another acronym). As often as I have repeated that phrase to myself, it doesn’t make it easier to move past. What should make it easier, though, is that great promise: “for the Lord your God goes with you: He will never leave you nor forsake you.”
So how do we move forward? One of the blessings for me in this time of quarantine has been watching Mass online. It has allowed me to go back and rewatch sermons that have given me food for thought. Rev. Mark Yavarone used the passage of Jesus walking on water (Matthew 14:22-33) as a roadmap to pushing through fear. As you recall, Jesus told the disciples to get in a boat, and he would meet them later. While making the crossing, a storm swept up. Suddenly, the disciples saw Jesus walking on water towards them. They were terrified. “’It is a ghost,’ they said, and they cried out in fear. At once [Jesus] spoke to them, ‘Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.’” (Sound familiar?) Peter, being Peter, replied, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come…”, and Jesus said come. Peter stepped out of the boat and, lo and behold, walked on water! – until fear got the better of him. He began to sink! “…he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him…” Father Mark emphasized the “at once” and “immediately” — Jesus didn’t wait to offer encouragement, comfort and promise to the disciples, and he didn’t watch Peter flounder, he at once spoke to them and immediately stretched out his hand.
So what was Father Mark’s roadmap from this? He posed this question: What do we do when we realize that we are afraid of doing something that is good, something that God wants us to do? He answered: We pray (the disciples crying out, and Peter replying to Jesus); we face our fear (Peter stepping out of the boat); and if we fall, call out to Jesus and know that he will be there immediately to catch you if you fall, then we get up (strength) and take the next good step (courage).
This year The Fall Fairy reminded us that “What WAS is not what IS. What IS does not have to be what WILL BE,” but getting to the what-will-be will require us to face fears, and will mean that we will fall. But with that great promise, with that outstretched hand, we can and will get up again and take the next good step.
So Happy Fall, but Happier getting up again and taking the next good step.