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State of Our Souls

 

As I write, the State of the Union is just about to begin, results from the Iowa caucuses are finally coming in, and the Senate prepares to vote on impeachment.

And it is only February.

What is the state of our souls right now? Many of my friends feel exhausted and confused, worried about the future. Sometimes, it seems no matter where we turn, there is difficult news and division.

I’ve been quieter than usual on social media because I’m worried. But I’ve also been working on my next book, a project that has reminded me of some of the most basic things about being Christian. Writing books can be like writing sermons – authors are usually preaching to themselves.

The book (which will come out about a year from now) is about Jesus, and I just finished a chapter called “The Way,” based on John 14:6 – I am the way, the truth, and the life. Until this month, I had never noticed that the context for that familiar verse is something we all might relate to: fear.

I share with you a preview, some words that helped me as I wrote them:

This short verse is part of a much longer story, one that takes up four chapters in the Gospel of John, and begins when Jesus tells his friends that he is leaving them: “Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me . . . where I am going you cannot come.” You can imagine this was hard to hear, especially to those who had followed him for three years. “You can’t leave us! What are we going to do??” Jesus probably saw the fear in the eyes, the confusion on their faces, so he quickly added, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13:33-34). Having Jesus say, “love one another” in my stead did not seem quite good enough. Peter says, “Lord, where are you going?” (John 13:36) And then Thomas adds, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (John 14:5). 

This whole story veers between fear and love, worry and trust, abandonment and comfort. The disciples are frightened that their friend and teacher is leaving; Jesus reassures them that, although they cannot follow him into suffering and death, he is present with them though love, trust, and faith in him, not in ideas about him. “I have loved you; abide in my love.” The disciples have an intense fear of separation (no coincidence the section opens with Jesus referring to them as “little children”) from God, from Jesus, and probably from one another as well. They have known what it means to live deeply into God, to have overcome estrangement both with the divine and within their own lives. They cannot fathom losing that. If Jesus goes away, will they be banished back to a splintered world, the one sharded in sin? Is that their fate? 

Jesus says no. Fear, estrangement, separation – these are not the last words. Instead, Jesus invited his followers to dwell in him, even as he dwelt in God… I am the way … and no one of you, my fearful friends, knows God apart from what I have embodied for you; stay close, keep faith. This is not a threat, it is a promise. 

I have found some comfort in remembering that the disciples were afraid. Jesus understood fear – and offered a way beyond our fears: love. In John 14, 15, and 16, Jesus returns over and over again to love as the way that defeats fear, love as the confirmation of God’s presence, love as the virtue of community, and love as the mark of true faith.

As 2020 has begun with anxiety, fear, confusion about the future, John reminded me of the way – a way of love. Keep walking, friends. None of us is sure where the path goes, but if we stay the course, we can trust that God is with us.

Visit Diana Butler Bass’ website here.

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