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DeacoNote 37: Higher Ground

July 19, 2023

Fear is a curious emotion, if I may call it that. In small doses, it can be entertaining - think of that scary roller coaster ride, or the spooky story told around the campfire. In a little larger dose, it can be considered a healthy safeguard. It reminds you to buckle your seatbelt, lock the doors at night, use the hot pad when picking up the pan of boiling water, or slow down when the road is icy. As fear increases, however, it can become debilitating. I knew a woman who was once afraid to go outside, and another who was afraid to be in the same room with a cat. Finally at extreme levels fear can become destructive, eating you up from the inside out. The fear-induced stress literally destroys your body and mind. Stephen King managed to find a way to make fear pay a profit, exploring the many facets of fear in fictional stories. Some have described him as the "King of Horror" and his books have sold over 350 million copies. We usually think of fear as having an object. We may be afraid of cats, like our friend above, big hairy spiders, heights, or even the water, like my dog. Some fears are simply irrational, some are based on a past "bad" experience we would rather not repeat, and some are derivative. I may not be afraid of heights directly, but I am scared to trust the railing that keeps me from falling because it looks like it was built and installed by the lowest cost bidder, or the ride at the fair that was maintained by someone receiving minimum wage. Or, maybe we just saw the video posted on Facebook where a giant crack was discovered in a main support for the roller coaster by a customer, and not the maintenance crew! Sometimes, however, it is not what we know that scares us. We fear the unknown! We are like the little boy who imagines that there is a monster under his bed when we turn off the light, or, maybe a ghost.

Matthew 14: 24-26 but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. "It's a ghost," they said, and cried out in fear.

It is dark, the water is thrashing with an angry fury and our imagination begins to run away with us. It clouds our vision as the fear mounts. Just like the disciples, in such situations we cannot even recognize our friends or help when it arrives. Instead, our fear just seems to feed on itself - taking us with it. As the flood waters of Vermont have wrecked havoc across our state in recent days I am reminded of a similar storm a few years back. A couple I know had a house on a hill overlooking a peaceful little river. As the rain continued that peaceful river turned nasty. The waters began to flow faster and faster; higher and higher. As the sun began to set, the raging river reached the road and soon took out the power and then the bridge. Evacuation was then no longer an option. The roar of the wind, rain and rising water of the river pushed their fear to near panic levels. The dark made it impossible to see where the water really was - it just seemed louder and louder with each passing hour. Sleep was impossible. They began to second guess themselves, playing the coulda - shoulda - woulda game on each other. Should they stay put, or should they go out into the storm and try to seek higher ground in the woods behind their house in the blackness of the stormy night? As they tell the story now, hindsight informs them that the water destroyed their cars, but stopped rising before it reached the level of the house. Back then, in the dark, however, there was no way to know. Even before the dark made it impossible to see, the river was well above historic levels. On what basis could they possibly judge when it would stop? Fear began to eat away at them, with no good way to know whether they were safe or not. And there was no real escape - that option closed when the bridge washed away. They had no other options left, but to trust in the foundation of the house and what it was built upon.

Matthew 8: 21, 24-27 Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. ... Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against the house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.

Survivors of such storms and floods often tell of a PTSD like effect for many years afterward. A fear begins to rise involuntarily within them at just the sound of rushing water. And then they move. To higher ground.

Matthew 14: 27 But Jesus immediately said to them: 'Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid.
Psalm 61: 1-3 Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you. I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe.

Amen, Your Brother in Christ, Warren Please feel free to share this DeacoNote with a friend, or post a related thought in the comments below.

Warren J. Ayer, Jr. Chairperson, Board of Deacons United Church of Colchester

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