Praying Our Fears

by Susan Becker, RDC


In the meantime sorrows were accumulating for her. There were the agonies and crucifixions that could be breathed to no one and that must be borne with a smiling face. Every religious support had been taken from her. She had read much but her heart was starved and her soul was in despair.



The whole of Lent passed. The conflict grew daily more intense. She resisted nothing. She thinks she resisted no light. It was only the fear of the plunge.



Do not be afraid . . . I am with you to protect you. I am putting my words in your mouth.

JEREMIAH 1: 8, 10                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

Do not be afraid I am with you; I have called you by name; you are mine.

ISAIAH 43: 2, 5


Fear is powerful. It has capacity to either call us to action or stop us dead in our tracks.


Our public fears, the ones that unite us in the face of a common threat, have always become manageable through ritual. Our forebears tossed rose petals into the volcano to placate the gods; they danced for rain and for a successful harvest. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and even now every September, we gather for prayer and remembering, praying always for peace. Our ability to have the conversation with one another and to have our personal stories held by the community brings healing.


But what about the other fears, the private ones that are our personal franchise, the fears that are not so easily managed; the ones about not being, or having or doing enough, fears of not belonging, fears of staying stuck in painful ways of living?


They are the ones that come from our unique experience of woundedness and have the power to leave us feeling very much alone. With no ritual, or public forum, or sometimes even a vocabulary, we have no sense of a common experience that can invite the healing conversation. Our deepest fears can easily become our personal pathologies.


It seems to me, though, that our private fears also carry with them a profound invitation. If, as the Carmelite William McNamara tells us, contemplation is “a long loving look at the real,” then it is in contemplative silence, as Thomas Merton says, that we “face and admit that gap between the depth of our being . . . and the surface which is untrue to our own reality.” It is when we know and can tell our story that it can be called into larger awareness.


Scripture tells of God’s encounter in the personal story and private fear of all of us. Recognizing and finding our experience in the larger context “helps make meaning and sense out of what appears to be confusing, frightening or unbearable.” (Gordon Peerman in Radical Grace Vol 20, No 3, p 16)


Praying our fears is simply telling our story —first to ourselves — no small task! Then it is listening with an open heart to hear where our story has already been told and what happens in the telling. The reference points have always been there. The anxiety and unrest of the Israelites in Exodus is also my story; fear of losing my way, of seeming to wander in circles. With the disciples at Emmaus I can be disappointed and disillusioned, and probably secretly terrified about the way things seem to be.


When I read some of the psalms, I realize that the poet is calming the spoken and unspoken fears of a whole people, and that mine are in there somewhere. And what does happen in the telling? Comfort, guidance, nourishment, clarity. I can’t imagine there is any fear or any human experience at all that does not have its place in the story of the Divine Compassion that begins in Genesis 1:1 and will continue for all time to come.


I hope for myself and all of us for the courage to tell our stories and to know that in the telling we will continue to discover that no matter what, together we are always guided, fed and comforted, embraced and loved.


We pray for courage to listen with open hearts to the stories of our sisters and brothers.

We pray for the honesty to speak our own truth.

We pray for the boldness to be the voice for those living in fear.

We pray for the confidence to act justly in the face of criticism and rejection.

We pray for the humility to stand in solidarity with all suffering people.

We pray for compassion that together we can hold tenderly all whose woundedness so desperately seeks healing.


Photo by Theresa Young, RDC