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Talk: Be strong, take heart

Education is a central aspect of the Cathedral’s mission.  We offer opportunities for learning, dialogue and engagement with issues of public debate.

At the Cathedral, people of all ages can learn about faith and discipleship. We run a Sunday School and are developing work with young people; there are occasional study groups and Lent Lectures.

The Cathedral is a theological and educational resource for the Diocese, supporting the work of clergy and parishes. The Cathedral works with the Diocese in planning and delivering an annual summer school.

Working with other institutions in and around Stag Hill, for example the University of Surrey, the Cathedral is committed to engaging with issues in the public sphere (including social responsibility, science, ethics, the arts and inter-faith dialogue).  There will be an annual series of talks alongside seminar based groups.

Transcripts of these talks are, where possible, included below.

For details of forthcoming talks, please see the Cathedral Diary and What's On 



Dianna Gwilliams
Thursday 26th February 2015
Lent talk: Do not be afraid
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In this first talk in the Lent series this year I want to explore with you courage and fear.  What they have in common and how closely they sit together, how they each shape the other and of the essential role they each have in the human condition. 

I will suggest that because fear is such a primal human response to stimuli it is a part of being ‘made in the image and likeness of God’ and if part of ‘being in the image and likeness of God’ then fear has the potential to transformative and to provide a means of God’s self-disclosure.  Further, that without fear there can be no courage, that in fact courage is dependent upon and a response to fear.  Being afraid is different - being afraid is not transformative – it is paralysing and a determent to flourishing.

Fear is part of the human condition and fear is transformative. 

Fear is a vital response to physical and emotional danger – if we didn't feel it, we couldn't protect ourselves from legitimate threats.  Fear causes a physiological change in brain and organ function and these provoke a behavioural response, such as running away, hiding or freezing from traumatic events.  This is known as the fight-or-flight reaction, caused by hormones following the stimulus, whether emotional or physical.  This fear response is part of what has ensured human survival.

The work of many psychologists over decades have described fear as an emotion.  Paul Elkman, more than 50 years ago gave the primary tools to his successors. Emotions, he says, are discrete, measurable, and physiologically distinct.  He suggested six emotions which are primary: anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise. Further work has suggested a whole colour wheel of emotions based on these primary ones. The basic emotions of human beings have ensured our survival for they generate responses which keep us safe.

We flee from, or prepare to fight against those things we fear.  This is human reaction. 

Fear is a universal human emotion and provokes a flight-or-fright reaction.  With this so we also say, ‘do not be afraid’.  What could this be about?

Courage, by contrast to fright-or-flight, is a response.  Courage presents itself during times of testing.

Unlike fear, believe it or not, courage is a very tricky theological concept.  This is because it has two family trees, if you like. 

One traces the concept of courage back to Plato’s Republic and the ‘Cardinal Virtues’.  350 years before Christ the philosopher and mathematician Plato developed the first systematic theory of forms, or ideas, and laid the foundations of western philosophy.  His student, Aristotle, articulated four cardinal virtues as wisdom, justice, temperance and courage or fortitude.  This is one branch of courage – that of Aristotle.

The other branch is populated from the first century and this is heavily influenced by the experience of martyrdom in the early church.  Courage is, on the one hand, the mean between recklessness and cowardice and on the other the capability of the human character to resist pain, danger or adversity.  It shows itself by enduring what cannot be changed. 

This developed into the cultivation of passivity as a feature of true courage and was more often called ‘fortitude’ in the writings.  In the stories of the saints from the Middle Age and in monastic treatises and manuals fortitude was described as a reasoned response to what cannot be changed and a passive submission to the inevitable.

In the 13th century the philosopher and priest Thomas Aquinas began his systematic synthesis of the teachings of Aristotle with Christianity – both branches of courage.  He wove together the cardinal virtues of wisdom, justice, temperance and courage with the theological virtues of faith, hope and love (charity) and in that weaving constructed an ethical scheme that has intrigued and baffled Christian thinkers ever since! 

Is courage, for example, only ‘human’ and ‘faith’ only divine – that is a gift from God?  Is one set of virtues human and another divine?  This is the subject of another series or two of lectures.

Part of the difficulty in locating courage, much less defining it, lies in the fact that it is psychosomatic in nature, a response.  It is versatile and presents in a wide spectrum from retreat to daring, to resignation to resistance.  We know it takes courage to fight but it also takes courage to walk away.  This is how the philosophers would say the virtues (courage and wisdom) work together.

In thinking about this topic I chose to look again at the writings of Maya Angelou and it was because I remembered something from the biography of her, written by Marcia Ann Gillespie.  In it Dr Angelou was quoted as saying, “Courage is the most important of the virtues, because without courage you can't practice any other virtue consistently.” 

Her statement addresses the question, ‘what is courage?’, and leaves behind the theological intrigue of its family tree.  Whatever we think of its derivation, courage is that without which nothing else is possible.  And here’s the circle I want to draw with you. Fear is part of the human condition, the divine human condition.  And courage is the response to the fear when the reaction – the fight-or-flight has come and gone. 

In addition to Maya Angelou I will reflect through some of the experiences and legacy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and then with Jesus and the time he spent in the wilderness after his baptism.

This from the third Chapter of the book of Proverbs, writing about the fruits of wisdom, ‘When you lie down you will not be afraid, when you lie down your sleep will be sweet. Do not be afraid of sudden fear when it comes – for the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught’.  When it comes.  When fear, an intrinsic, inate human emotion is felt, do not be afraid.  Being afraid is crippling.  Facing the fear gives courage.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer  (4 February 1906 – 9 April 1945) was a German Lutheran pastor, theologian and key founding member of the German Confessing Church. He was born into a large family in Breslau (now Wrocław, Poland), he and his twin sister were the sixth and seventh children out of eight. His father was a psychiatrist and neurologist and his mother was a teacher.  His brother Klaus was involved in the plot assassinate Adolf Hitler and he was executed along with Dietrich. His two older sisters both married men who were eventually executed by the Nazis. One younger sister was imprisoned by the Nazis but survived. His twin and their youngest sister each survived as did their husbands.

He was an outstanding theologian, gaining the equivalent of his undergraduate and MA degrees, his first and second doctorate all before he was 25 years old.  Many of his theological books have become modern classics.  He was destined for ordination following these studies, but was too young so travelled to the US to complete some post doc studies and teaching. 

It was while there that he studied under Reinhold Niebuhr and met Frank Fisher, a black fellow student who introduced him to the Baptist Church in Harlem.  He heard Adam Clayton Powell, Sr., preach the Gospel of Social Justice and became sensitive to not only social injustices experienced by minorities but also what he called the ineptitude of the church to bring about integration. Bonhoeffer began to see things from the perspective of those who suffer oppression. He later referred to these impressions abroad as the point at which he "turned from phraseology to reality and he gained a great love for and determined to facilitate ecumenism.

After returning to Germany in 1931, Bonhoeffer became a lecturer in systematic theology at the University of Berlin. Deeply interested in ecumenism, he was appointed by the World Alliance for Promoting International Friendship through the Churches (a forerunner of the World Council of Churches) as one of its three European youth secretaries.  He was ordained at the age of 25 in Nov 1931.

Bonhoeffer's promising academic and ecclesiastical career was dramatically altered with Nazi ascension to power on 30 January 1933. He was a determined opponent of the regime from its first days. Only months later he was to declare that the church must not simply "bandage the victims under the wheel, but jam the spoke in the wheel itself."

In May 1934 the forerunner to the Confessing Church was formed and became a major source of Christian opposition to the Nazi government. The Barmen Declaration, drafted by Karl Barth and adopted by the Confessing Church, insisted that Christ, not the Führer, was the head of the church. However, the reorganized Protestant churches and the newly established German Evangelical Church, being influenced by nationalism and their traditional obedience to state authority (they had been state churches until 1918) had a few months earlier inserted a paragraph in their foundation documents prohibiting non-Aryans from taking parish posts.

When Bonhoeffer was offered a parish post in eastern Berlin, he refused it in protest and instead accepted a two-year appointment as a pastor of two German-speaking Protestant churches in London: the German Lutheran Church in Sydenham and the German Reformed Church of St Paul's, in Whitechapel.

He described this move to England as going’ for a time into the desert.’ He thought that his ecumenical work could strengthen the work and witness of the Confessing Church.  Karl Barth wrote to his with stinging criticism, accusing him of running away and wasting his "splendid theological armoury" while "the house of your church is on fire" and chided him to return to Berlin "by the next ship. 

He eventually returned to Germany to teach and support ordinands and to strengthen the work of the Confessing Church.  Things became more and more difficult and as the Nazi suppression of the Confessing Church intensified, Barth was driven back to Switzerland, other leaders were arrested and in August 1936, Bonhoeffer' was denounced as a "pacifist and enemy of the state". By November 1937 arrested 27 pastors and former students of Bonhoeffer had been arrested and it was around this time that Bonhoeffer published his best-known book, The Cost of Discipleship, a study on the Sermon on the Mount.

Bonhoeffer spent the next two years secretly traveling from one eastern German village to another to conduct ‘pop-up seminary’ and to supervise his students, most of whom were working illegally in small parishes.

In February 1938, Bonhoeffer made an initial contact with members of the German Resistance at Abwehr the military intelligence who were seeking Hitler’s overthrow.  He learned that war was imminent and as a committed pacifist opposed to the Nazi regime, particularly troubled by the prospect of being conscripted.

Bonhoeffer left for the United States in June 1939 at the invitation of Union Theological Seminary in New York but very soon regretted his decision and wrote to Reinhold Niebuhr: "I have come to the conclusion that I made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people... Christians in Germany will have to face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose but I cannot make that choice from security." He returned to Germany on the last scheduled steamer to cross the Atlantic.

In Germany he was forbidden to speak in public and was required to regularly report his activities to the police. He had by this time joined the Abwehr which was now the centre of the anti-Hitler resistance. In the face of Nazi atrocities, the full scale of which Bonhoeffer learned through the Abwehr, he concluded that "the ultimate question for a responsible man to ask is not how he is to extricate himself heroically from the affair, but how the coming generation shall continue to live."  In May 1942, he met Anglican Bishop George Bell of Chichester, a member of the House of Lords and an ally of the Confessing Church, and through him feelers were sent to British foreign minister Anthony Eden. However, the British government ignored these, as it had all other approaches from the German resistance.

During this time Bonhoeffer worked on Ethics and wrote letters to keep up the spirits of his former students. He intended Ethics as his magnum opus, but it remained unfinished when he was arrested. On 5 April 1943, Bonhoeffer and others were arrested and imprisoned.

For a year and a half, Bonhoeffer was imprisoned at Tegel military prison awaiting trial. There he continued his work in religious outreach among his fellow prisoners and guards. Sympathetic guards helped smuggle his letters out of prison and it’s these uncensored letters which ere posthumously published in Letters and Papers from Prison.

In 1944 a plot, in which Bonhoeffer took part, to take Hitler’s life failed and two months later Abwehr documents were discovered which told of his part in the conspiracy.

He was transferred from Tegel military prison to the detention cellar of the house prison of the Reich Security Head Office, the Gestapo's high-security prison. In February 1945, he was secretly moved to Buchenwald concentration camp, and finally to Flossenbürg concentration camp.

On 4 April 1945, the diaries of Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, head of the Abwehr, were discovered, and in a rage upon reading them, Hitler ordered that the Abwehr conspirators be destroyed. Bonhoeffer was led away just as he concluded his final Sunday service and asked an English prisoner Payne Best to remember him to Bishop George Bell of Chichester, saying "This is the end - for me the beginning of life.

He was condemned to death four days later and executed by hanging the following day.  It was just two weeks before the camp was liberated, three weeks before the Soviet capture of Berlin and a month before the capitulation of Nazi Germany.

He demonstrated courage from the earliest days of the election of Adolf Hitler, was staunchly resistant to the Nazi dictatorship, vocally opposed to Hitler's euthanasia program and genocide of the Jews.  He had the courage to change his mind, and return to certain arrest and he also had the specific courage to trust his very self to God as he participated in the plot to kill Hitler. He did not justify his action but accepted that he was taking guilt upon himself as he wrote "when a man takes guilt upon himself in responsibility, he imputes his guilt to himself and no one else. He answers for it... Before other men he is justified by dire necessity; before himself he is acquitted by his conscience, but before God he hopes only for grace."

He is commemorated not just in the German Church in Southeast London but also in the gallery of 20th Century martyrs at Westminster Abbey.  Bonheffer's life as a pastor and theologian of great intellect and spirituality who lived as he preached — and his martyrdom in opposition to Nazism — exerted great influence and inspiration for Christians across broad denominations and ideologies, such as Martin Luther King, Jr. in the United States, the anti-communist democratic movement in Eastern Europe during the Cold War and the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa.

In a sermon preached in 1933, just before Hitler came to power, he said this about fear and about courage: “The overcoming of fear—that is what we are proclaiming here…. But look here, right in the middle of this fearful world is a place that is meant for all time, which has a peculiar task that the world doesn’t under­stand. It keeps calling over and over but always anew, in the same tone, the same thing: Fear is overcome; don’t be afraid [John 16:33]. In the world you are frightened. But be comforted; I have conquered the world!’ and ‘Don’t be afraid, be of good courage . . . How can you meet the enemy with fear in your heart? …Believe in God . . . Lord, strengthen our faith!’

Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Annie Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, on April 4, 1928. She had a beloved older brother and when her parents’ stormy marriage ended she and her brother, aged 3 and 4 were sent to Arkansas to live with her paternal grandmother, Annie.   In great exception to the harsh economics of African Americans of the time, Angelou's grandmother prospered financially during the Great Depression and second world war because she had a successful general store and was very careful with her money.

Four years later, the children's father came to their home without warning and took them back to their mother.  At the age of eight, while living with her mother, Angelou was raped by her mother's boyfriend.  She told her brother, who told the rest of their family.  Because they knew who he was he was arrested and tried but jailed for just one day.  Four days after his release he was murdered, probably by her uncles.   She became mute for almost five years, believing, as she said, that her voice killed him. ‘I thought, my voice killed him; I killed that man, because I told his name. And then I thought I would never speak again, because my voice would kill anyone ...’  Her biographer writes that it was during this period of silence that Angelou developed her extraordinary memory, her love for books and literature, and her ability to listen and observe the world around her.

Shortly after the murder of her mother’s boyfriend Angelou and her brother were sent back to their grandmother and it was then that a beloved teacher, Mrs. Bertha Flowers, introduced her to authors such as Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, black female artists like Frances Harper and Anne Spencer, and helped her find her voice again.

When she was 14 she and her brother moved to California to join her mother.  She became the first black woman streetcar conductor and graduated from High School just three weeks before the birth of her son, when she was 17 years old.

Her first marriage was to a Greek electrician who was white – at a time when interracial marriage was illegal in many parts of the United States.  She was a nightclub singer, a professional calypso dancer and actor

During 1954 and 1955, Angelou toured Europe with a production of the opera Porgy and Bess. She began her practice of learning the language of every country she visited, and in a few years she gained proficiency in several languages. She composed, sang and recorded her own calypso music and towards the sixties moved to New York to concentrate on writing.

She joined the very influential Harlem Writers Guild, where she met several major African-American authors, including John Henrik Clarke, Rosa Guy, Paule Marshall, and Julian Mayfield, and was published for the first time. After meeting Martin Luther King, Jr. and hearing him speak, she organised a Cabaret for Freedom to benefit the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and became SCLC's Northern Coordinator. This was the beginning of her contributions to civil rights as a fundraiser.  She also, at about this time, began her pro-Castro and anti-apartheid activism during this time.

She lived in Egypt where she worked as an associate editor at the weekly English-language newspaper The Arab Observer. From there she moved to Accra, Ghana, until 1965. She became an administrator at the University of Ghana, and was active in the African-American expatriate community. She was a feature editor for The African Review,  a freelance writer for the Ghanaian Times, wrote and broadcast for Radio Ghana, and worked and performed for Ghana's National Theatre. She performed in a revival of The Blacks in Geneva and Berlin.

It was here that she became close friends with Malcolm X. She returned to the U.S. in 1965 to help him build a new civil rights organization, the Organization of Afro-American Unity; he was assassinated shortly afterward. Devastated and adrift, she joined her brother in Hawaii, where she resumed her singing career, and then moved back to Los Angeles to focus on her writing career. She worked as a market researcher in Watts and witnessed the riots in the summer of 1965.

In 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. asked Angelou to organize a march. Before this could take place he was assassinated on her 40th birthday. Devastated again, but standing up to that devastation and despite having almost no experience, she wrote, produced, and narrated Blacks, Blues, Black!,  a ten-part series of documentaries about the connection between blues music and black Americans' African heritage, and what Angelou called the "Africanisms still current in the U.S.

In 1968 she was challenged by Random House editor Robert Loomis, to write the first volume of her autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, published in 1969, which brought her international recognition and acclaim.

She went on to write the first screenplay written by a black woman, worked as a composer for singer Roberta Flack, wrote articles, short stories, TV scripts, documentaries, autobiographies, and poetry, produced plays, and was named visiting professor at several colleges and universities. She was a reluctant actor, but nominated for a Tony Award in 1973 for her role in Look Away. In 1977, Angelou appeared in a supporting role in the television mini-series Roots. She was given a multitude of awards during this period, including over thirty honorary degrees from colleges and universities from all over the world.

She returned to the southern United States in 1981 because she felt she had to come to terms with her past there, and despite having no bachelor's degree, accepted the lifetime Reynolds Professorship of American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where which point she considered herself "a teacher who writes".

Further prominence came when in 1993, Angelou recited her poem "On the Pulse of Morning" at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton.  This broadened her appeal "across racial, economic, and educational boundaries". The recording of the poem won a Grammy Award. In June 1995, she delivered her poem, "A Brave and Startling Truth", which commemorated the 50th anniversary of the United Nations.

Over thirty years after Angelou began writing her life story, she completed her sixth autobiography A Song Flung Up to Heaven, in 2002.

Angelou campaigned for the Democratic Party in the 2008 presidential primaries, giving her public support to Senator Hillary Clinton but when Barack Obama (whose sister is named after Maya Angelou) won the South Carolina primary she put her support behind him and was honoured to read a poem at his inauguration.

She rarely refers to fear but when she does it is like this, ‘Nothing so frightens me as writing, but nothing so satisfies me. It's like a swimmer in the Channel: you face the stingrays and waves and cold and grease, and finally you reach the other shore, and you put your foot on the ground—Aaaahhhh!  All my work, my life, everything I do is about survival, not just bare, awful, plodding survival, but survival with grace and faith. While one may encounter many defeats, one must not be defeated.’

Her works are not hard-luck stories, but stories full of hope and courage.  She doesn’t shy away from the really difficult memories which for her were so formative, nor does she avoid discussion and disclosure of the effects these had on her.  There is no sugar coating, nor does she succumb to the temptation towards universal happy-endings.  What there is, in the midst of the unhappy endings, is transformation.  In all the circumstances of fear and hardship, she was able to see through the thin paper and find the courage to continue, and to triumph, thereby transforming darkness into light for her, and for her readers.

Fear and courage walk side-by-side, constant companions, each dependent on the other for pace and completeness. Each part of the very humanity all share.

Without the fear she would never have known the courage to overcome the obstacles she faced and so she writes, she ‘graciously granted courage’.  “Courage is the most important of the virtues, because without courage you can't practice any other virtue consistently.” 

For both Dietrich Bonhoeffer and for Maya Angelou – across the decades in very different cultures, their stories are of how closely courage and fear walk together.  Neither of them really deals with courage, interestingly neither do they deal with breathing, or other bodily functions.  They just are.  Courage, as produced by fear – is a catalyst to action.  They discovered how to have fear, but not to be afraid of it.

Now to Jesus, for him too.  As he faced the fear so he found the courage.  He was not afraid.  We know far less of the life of Jesus of Nazareth than we do about most people, definitely less than we know about the life of Maya Angelou and of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. 

We have snapshops of parts of his life from the gospels of Mark (widely believed to have written from the point of view of Peter, the fisherman), this material was then used by Matthew in his gospel and Matthew added other details that he remembered and thought worthwhile to include; and then Luke took material from both of them and from other sources (particularly, it is believed from Jesus’ mother) and wrote two volumes, the gospel which bears his name and the Acts of the Apostles.  Each of these evangelists orders the material in a different way because they wrote for different audiences and from different points of view and experiences.  Luke sought to make a more chronological order to his material – and for example, added far more medical, physical details. 

The fourth gospel is different in kind and purpose.  It does contain narrative and events, but it is to this gospel from which we learn about the earliest search for the meaning behind the things Jesus did and said, not simply that he did or said them.  When reading that gospel, we listen carefully for the echoes of how it may have felt (but this is a modern way of putting things) to live with Jesus, to hear about his works, to look back and start to make sense of all of it.

Gallons of ink has been used in the analysis of what Jesus may have known about himself and when.  What did his mother tell him as he was growing up?  What did he discover when he spent three days with the teachers of the faith in the Temple of Jerusalem?  He was 12 years old – like most 12 year olds, a sponge for knowledge. 

What did he discover in his private conversations with his friends Martha, Mary and their brother Lazarus.  We aren’t going to answer these questions, not now and not just us.  Suffice it to say that scholars don’t know.  I’m not sure it’s ours to know.  Even Jesus and his mother are entitled to a private life.

What is agreed, and is the bedrock of Christian faith, is that Jesus was a human being.  Fully human, not part human, not super-human, but fully human.  His fear, his joy, his love for his friends, his anger at injustice were human responses and reactions.  He would have needed fear as he was growing up, just like all children do, to learn limits, how to be safe, how to live well. 

It follows that if Jesus knew fear, so he would also have known courage, or rather those looking on would see that he demonstrated courage.  Was he crippled by fear?  There’s nothing to suggest that – only that he found ways of following the advice from the Proverbs, ‘do not be afraid of sudden fear when it comes, for the Lord will be your confidence’.

In Lent the church traditionally follows the pattern of denial and self-restraint which Jesus would have had to follow while he was in the wilderness.  We don’t know what the wilderness was.  As northern Europeans much of that Middle Eastern landscape looks like wilderness at the best of times.  Sand is sand, scrub is scrub.  It wasn’t a European wilderness; no rugged mountains or deep ravines, no moors.  The physical wilderness looked very much like the terrain of every day.

It was a wilderness as Jesus experienced it – it is only he who could have relayed the story.  He was on his own.  The gospel writers use the word ‘a desolate place’ from which we have rendered wilderness or desert. 

Many of us know the experience of inner desolation, of being in a ‘desolate place’ – This was the experience which Jesus spoke about when it was over.  Jesus, to use modern parlance, felt desolate. 

How he arrived at his desolate place is not so clear.  The mechanism of it is described three different ways.  He was either led, compelled or thrust into it.  Topics for further discussion are ‘did Jesus have a choice?’, ‘did he find himself desolate in order to get in touch with something internal?’, ‘did he have to ‘go through something’ in order to come out the other end with determination to go forward?’

The story that Jesus told about his desolation included deprivation (of food and water, human companionship) and also testing (the temptations). It is interesting to note that at what stage in the whole ’40 day’ period they happened is not as striking as the experience itself, what questions they threw up for Jesus. His experience was recalled differently by Luke and Matthew – his testings/temptations occurred either during the 40 days, or after the 40 days were over. 

What was tested, or questioned was his very identity.  ‘If you are…the Son of God….’  In terms of fear, this is one of the most primal of all queries.  ‘Who are you?’ We could also explore the concept of self-awareness in those living with some forms of dementia.  ‘Who am I?’ is a fundamental existential question.  This is what was intended to make Jesus afraid.  He may well have felt fear.  If he did, he stood up to it.  He was strong, and took heart – showed courage.  He drew on his inner knowledge – those parts of the scriptures which he learned at his parents’ knees.   And he drew on resources to address the fear – not ignore it but to stand up to it.

He refused to be afraid.  The sudden fear which presented itself at each of the temptations/tests, ‘IF you are the Son of God….’ did not get the better of him – he did not become afraid.

Various ways of describing fear were available to the evangelists, but these are not present in the narratives.  Jesus felt hunger and thirst.  He didn’t describe himself as feeling fear. Neither though did he feel courageous – he just did what he had to do.  And he, like us, had a choice.

What Jesus’ description of his time of desolation, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s letters, sermons and prose and Maya Angelou’s life and work have in common is an absence of any discussion of courage on their part.  I wonder whether that is also because they have an absence of fear in their stories.  Courage is rarely felt as courage.  What human beings feel (the innate emotion) is the fear.  What they do is act with courage.

That’s what the outworking is of ‘Do not be afraid’.  ‘Do not be afraid’ does not mean do not feel fear.  It means, ‘do not be overcome with fear’; ‘let the fear produce courage’.  This courage is not a reaction, which may be fight or it may be flight, but it is a response, sometimes measured, sometimes almost instantaneous, but it is not a reaction. 

‘When you lie down you will not be afraid, when you lie down your sleep will be sweet. Do not be afraid of sudden fear when it comes – for the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught’.  When it comes.  When fear, an intrinsic, innate human emotion is felt, do not be afraid.  Being afraid is crippling.  Acknowledging the fear gives way to the courage.