As a race, human beings seem to be particularly prone to hysteria. The brave and compassionate Jeff Sparrow, writing recently in The Guardian, reminds us that 1890s anarchists, 1960s “skyjackers”, the followers of Bin Laden, and those recently claiming the title of jihadists, have successively inherited the mantle of “terrorism”, and the hysterical public glamour that surrounds it.
Without in any way seeking to minimise the horror and bloodshed caused by bombings and other indiscriminate violence, it is worth, Sparrow contends, considering that it is the hysteria engendered by the media coverage of terrorist events that remains in the collective psyche, rather than the events themselves or their perpetrators. That hysteria is reborn in each generation, and is easily manipulated by those in power to justify harsh treatment of those who hold unpopular views, as was seen so clearly in the McCarthyism of the 1950s.
Faith stands in stark contrast to hysteria. As Richard Rohr says, an important part of faith is “[h]aving a solid and clear ‘epistemology’ – how we know the things we know … or we are subject to the whims and fancies of any teacher.” Rohr goes on:
I hope I can add to the positive momentum of spiritual evolution. Because of my limitations and biases (as a white man, born in Kansas in the 1940s, raised in the Roman Catholic faith, educated in Franciscan seminaries), my approach to union will always be through a particular set of lenses. It cannot not be. My lenses aren’t necessarily better than others, but they are the ones I began with, and thus far they have born much fruit for others. All each of us can do is own and expose our biases, because we all have them. You do too. There is no such thing as a value free, or unbiased position on anything. My prayer, paraphrasing St. Joan of Arc, is: “If I am in your truth, God, keep me there. If I am not, God, put me there.”
I am coming to a difficult place in my own faith journey. What Richard Rohr somewhere describes as “the force field of the Holy Spirit” is tugging at me again. For all the cool scepticism of some contemporary humanist Quakers, for all the complex linguistic knots some of us tie ourselves into affirming each others’ right to speak of God or not “or whatever we call it”, my own journey is “experimental”. It can’t be otherwise. My experience, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere here, is based in prayer and leads back to prayer. It is only as a pray-er that I can be honest with myself about my own faith; seemingly, I only make sense to myself as one who prays.
Of all the aspects and qualities of the life of faith, it is the practice of prayer that seems most clearly to be the antithesis of hysterical fear. Prayer depends upon, and works within, faith; without prayer, faith (mine at least) withers.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me…