St. John's bell tower designed by Marcel BreuerI traveled this past weekend to the Guest House of St. John’s Abbey in central Minnesota. I’m about to head off on some travel for my book tour — part of me looks forward to this, part of me does not. It will be exciting and exhausting, and I have a speech to write. But really all that was an excuse to get back up to St. John’s, a place I visit periodically to get quiet inside. I did get a bit done on the speech, but more important than that I slept and read, prayed with the monks, and collected my thoughts.

Before I left Kate handed me a tiny book of poems by Freya Manfred. I’m nourished and kept alive by reading, and always have been. I came upon a couple of lines from Manfred that I’ll keep. The first is just half a line that puts fresh words to an underlying energy and tension of life that fascinates me — the concomitant separation and twining of what is personal and what is communal. Manfred refers to this as “our braided paths and solitary ways.”

Light wall at St. John's Abbey Guesthouse designed by VJAAI like this language. She also has a poem about fear, which I think about alot as a factor in our common life, religious and otherwise. Fear is the very human very powerful emotion that lashes out as anger, hatred, bigotry, violence. I try to hang on to this knowledge — difficult as it is in the face of real anger, hatred, bigotry, and violence — as a way to cultivate compassion as a primary virtue for moving through the world. Freya Manfred adds some poetic images to my cumulative store of intelligence:

Fear is a thirst for solid ground,
a cave and a fire,
with a way in, and a way out.

Fear is not always old,
but it’s always new.
When old, it can be ignored,

like the midnight keening in the houses of the sane.
When new, it’s nameless
something about to happen —

not death,
but all I can imagine.
Fear leaves and returns.

There are no words to keep it away.
If only there were words.

And yet, and yet — I persist in my faith that if we can at least name something — even the powerlessness of words in the face of the fearfulness in our world, we can begin to discern other ways together to approach and calm it.

Share Your Reflection



as the all-inclusive universal self unfolds, there is always the struggle from the false to be left behind
fear - the not-self's final weapon
a strange mechanism indeed, this self-asserted, self-created construct
it seems to enjoy its self-imposed limitations rooted in the soil of human thought

it is a supernatural event
this Death to death
and not of man's making

I always enjoy Krista's perspective on things. But FEAR is one of the most primitive of emotions and traces back to the reptilian brain, at least. Human manifestations of fear can take the more human trait we call bigotry, but the other things she mentions can be found in most vertebrate animals. Compassion in the face of fear is fairly rare; compassion is often shown by dogs for other beings of whom they are not afraid, but only a few people can show compassion for those who threaten them. It is much easier to label them as evil. One of the best things about SOF is the frequency with which guests have this sort of compassion.