All will be well and every kind of thing shall be well.
“I think it’s a panic attack,” said the text message on my phone.
I was trying to write a scene for a screenplay, but I was stuck, a mini-writer’s block. When the text came across my phone screen, I was sitting in front of the computer, and this bugcame walking across a magazine article I had on the desk. The article was about the division within the country since the election—Trumpers vs Anti-Trumpers. The bug wasn’t reading the article, at least I don’t think he was. He just seemed determined to go over there, somewhere, on the other side of my desk, which meant he had to cross over this field of black letters.
I have no idea what kind of a bug he was. He was black-ish, kind of a round body/shell. At least four legs, maybe more underneath, I couldn’t tell. I ignored the article and my computer, concentrating on my little friend’s journey.
My phone lit up again and the text message continued. “She’s really upset. I think we may have to turn around and go back home. A panic attack? I looked up panic attacks on the computer. A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause. Some symptoms of panic attacks are difficulty breathing, pounding heart or chest pain, dizziness, sweating, trembling, nausea. I don’t think I’ve ever had one, but I know lots of people who have. Especially before and after the election.
Back to my bug friend. What would happen, I wondered, if he hit an obstacle, maybe a desirous one? I took a small piece of peanut from the Nature Valley granola bar I was eating, and put it in his path. No problem, he walked around it. How about some chocolate from that Hersey’s kiss over there. Tempting, no? Not for him, he walked right over it. I took a large rubber band and surrounded him, instant corral. He walked around and around, and when he found no way out, he just stopped. I guess he sat down on his haunches, although I couldn’t tell if he had any haunches, whatever they are. He seemed to have concluded, OK, fine. I guess I’ll just stay here. Whatever. He was sitting right next to a word on the page. The word was “consequences”. It was immediately preceded by the word “dire”, as in “dire consequences”, having to do with the future of our country if we can’t agree on some common ground. He didn’t seem to care about any consequences for himself in his rubber band prison. No panic attack for my bug friend. He just sat there, being a bug, I guess. And when I finally lifted the gate, removed the rubber wall, he got right up off his haunches, and proceeded to walk across the desktop, down the side of the desk, and onward to the floor.
I sat back and picked up my phone. I typed in a suggestion for the panic attack. “Maybe if you stopped and let her walk around a bit, that would help.” I didn’t know that dogs have panic attacks, but here was the rescue dog I often walk and love to be play with having a huge panic attack about being in the car.
And suddenly I soared up out of my chair, up through the ceiling of my office, out the roof of the building, past a bunch of startled birds in midflight, through the clouds, past SpaceX’s Dragon supply ship on its way to the space station, whizzing by the moon, and Mars and all the planets, outside the reaches of our good old sun, a million miles beyond all of this….stuff. And then I paused, sat down on my haunches in the middle of the universe and looked back, God’s eye view, at my little life journey across the page of this moment. I clicked on a favorite song on Spotify, and God said:
When I am down, and, oh, my soul, so weary
When troubles come, and my heart burdened be
Then, I am still and wait here in the silence
Until you come and sit awhile with me
You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains
You raise me up to walk on stormy seas
I am strong when I am on your shoulders
You raise me up to more than I can be
Actually I’m not sure of God said those things, exactly, but they came to mind from Spotify as I got God’s perspective for a moment there.
“Therefore do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, or what you will wear….Look at the birds in the sky…learn from way the wild flowers grow…Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.”
But how is it that a wonderful dog I love does panic and worry? Have we so terrorized even the birds of the sky and the wild flowers and God’s great dog creatures with our unbelief that even they worry about their lives and maybe all life? In these days when our lives are capable of the most wondrous of things, when we possess such incredible technology that we can eradicate diseases, end world hunger, create comfortable lives for everyone on the planet—how is it that we still spread fear of one another and fail to believe that we are truly brothers and sisters? How do we give our animals panic attacks?
As I was sitting up there in the middle of the universe, I got another message on my phone. It was from a young friend. “I’ve been having a bad week. I feel lost.”
I have to admit, sitting up there amidst the stars, I paused. Did I really want to go back down into the middle of all that? But I did. I zoomed back past Saturn, waved at the sun and the man in the moon, scared a bald eagle soaring majestically above the hills, and came right back down to my life.
I called my young friend. He is such a great guy—smart, compassionate, so skilled in many things, and everyone who meets him loves him. But he’s struggling with his career, hitting a lot of dead ends, is scraping by on part-time jobs. On top of that, the woman he believed he could have a future with walked out of his life. Really, this guy would be a treasure for any woman, or for any company who hired him. To him, it felt like his whole world was crumbling: When I am down, and, oh, my soul, so weary, When troubles come, and my heart burdened be, Then, I am still and wait here in the silence, until you come and sit awhile with me.
Suddenly he was being shot up into the middle of the universe, getting the bigger picture. I’m not sure he was able yet to hear God’s voice: You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains, You raise me up to walk on stormy seas, I am strong when I am on your shoulders, You raise me up to more than I can be.
But I was pretty confident he would get to him. That’s what God does, you know. God whispers to us, shouts at us, murmurs in our hearts unceasingly: I love you, little one. Do not fear, you will always be OK, for I am always with you.
Last week we heard God tell us to love our enemies. As if that wasn’t tough enough, this week God says, “Don’t worry”. Trust me. Trust that I will find a job, that the love of my life will appear? Trust that the mortgage will be paid, that my health will hold up, that my daughter will be safe with that guy, trust that the president won’t bring us all to ruin, that I will find a new purpose for my life? For hardened New Yorker’s like us, who are taught to follow Ronald Reagan’s advice—“trust but verify”—it goes contrary to the suspicion in our bones.
Instead, today we are encouraged to live our lives with the radical optimism of St Julian of Norwich that “All will be well and all will be well and every kind of thing shall be well.” Julian’s positive outlook didn’t come from ignoring suffering or being blind to the mess of our lives. It came from her struggle to see beyond pain and suffering and to see in Christ the suffering and compassionate face of love. In God’s own time—not ours, he said-- “all shall be well.”
In these final days before Lent, as we prepare once again to go into the desert, one final word from the Sermon on the Mount. From up high on the mountain—way up, where God watches, we are told to surrender our fears. Panic not, and panic no one else. Give up your sure plans. Christ asks us to do something that may be, for some of us, even harder than loving our enemies.
We’re being told to trust. Don’t worry. Give it up to God. He will raise you up to be more than you can ever possibly imagine yourself to be.
I have no idea whatever happened to my little bug. He journeyed on off my desk and onward to the path in front of him. I’m pretty sure it was OK for him. And I’m pretty sure it will be OK for us too.