Remember when Peter Pan taught the Darling siblings how to fly? Peter told Wendy, “I’ll teach you how to jump on the wind’s back, and then away we’ll go.” As long as they firmly believed that they could fly, they would fly. Belief gave them wings. That, and a bit of fairy dust. But fear and doubt would keep them grounded.
In another novel of J. M. Barrie, Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, Peter begins life as a bird, as everyone does, but, unlike the rest of us, Peter does not notice when he becomes a human child.
it is a blessing that he did not know, for otherwise he would have lost faith in his power to fly, and the moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to fly. The reason birds can fly and we can’t is simply that they have perfect faith, for to have faith is to have wings.
“Fear no one” (Mt 10:26). The command is so stark. It seems more akin to the thoughtless twaddle of Twitter than a solemn injunction from our Lord. Yet—let’s be honest—is there a command of the Lord less obeyed by us?
“Fear no one” (Mt 10:26). Is there a command of the Lord less obeyed by us?
We human beings never stop being fearful of life, just as we never stop sinning, and the harmony between those two facts of life ought to tell us something. There is still another congruence: Fear, like sin, is not immediately recognized. It takes a certain grace to see how fear clips our wings. That is because fear is so much a part of our lives, of the way we live each day. And there is a third similarity: Fear, like sin, is not something that comes from a healthy mind. There is something irrational about both fear and sin.
Many of us were taught to make a daily examination of conscience, which typically meant asking ourselves, at the close of the day, what sins we committed during its course. There are other ways of doing a daily examen. We might also ask: When did I feel close to the Lord today? Or, what would I choose to repeat? What did I learn today?
It takes a certain grace to see how fear clips our wings.
Here is an examen you can do at any time of day: What am I afraid of? Don’t spend much time with the usual suspects, who present themselves for the line-up. Yes, I know that I am afraid of snakes, of truly great heights and of the television show “The View,” but none of these fears influence my life on a daily basis. I know this because at times I indulge them. I walk through the reptile hut at the zoo; I peer over the edge of a skyscraper; I don’t turn away when a clip of “The View” is shown on TV.
These fears are irrelevant to the Gospel life. Unless that is, I am captured by the North Vietnamese, placed on top of a large skyscraper, surrounded by many snakes and forced to binge watch “The View.”
No, it will take some time, and some grace, and probably more than one period of prayer to recognize the fears that truly keep you from flying, from living the Gospel fully, as Christ intended. Your true fears are not going to emerge from the woods at the sound of your voice calling them. You are more likely to discover them by imagining the scenes that really terrify you.
Finding our fears can open our eyes to our sins.
That is when you learn how much you fear being lonely or growing old or losing your health or surrendering someone you love. Maybe you fear being embarrassed, caught up short, losing control of some part of your life. Perhaps you fear that the best days of your life are behind you, that someone whom you desperately love, like a child, will never really return your love.
Finding our fears can also open our eyes to our sins. So often, sins are actions that we take because we are afraid and cannot admit to it. We tell someone off; we try to manipulate someone into a response, one which we think that we need; we keep track of the shortcomings of others. Ammunition, in case they come after us.
There has never been a man as free as Jesus. Son of God, in all his divinity and in all his humanity, Jesus lived his life without fear and without sin. He could live without sin because, trusting in the Father’s love, he lived without fear.
Fear precedes sin. We tend to think that sin is something that entices us. Superficially, it does. But look behind the titillation. Unmask it, and you will find something you genuinely fear: loneliness, anonymity, weakness, death.
How does one turn away from sin and faithfully live the Gospel? One turns to prayer, every day, and, in those moments when you can feel that the good Lord has you by the hand, look again at the fears that bind you to earth. Then let the Lord hold you by the hand as you soar above them. As J. M. Barrie says of Peter’s first flight, “Perhaps we could all fly if we were as dead-confident-sure of our capacity to do it as was bold Peter Pan that evening.”
Readings: Jeremiah 20:10-13 Romans 5:12-15 Matthew 10:26-33