Most children are afraid of the dark. Places that, when lit, are normally benign and ordinary, take on a foreboding quality in the darkness. The stairwell to the basement is the lair of ogres and monsters poised to snatch the ankles of the poor soul tasked with retrieving the family's Christmas decorations or a pound of meat from the storage freezer. The darkness is home to all manner of terrors conjured by the unknown.
I have a vivid memory of the first time I became aware of my fear of the dark. I was around eight years old. Of course, I had experienced fear of the dark prior to this moment, but I distinctly remember acknowledging my fear as something I could combat. I had awoken from sleep in the middle of the night by an urgent need to use the toilet. My room was located on the opposite end of a long and dark hallway that led to the bathroom. I dreaded the long walk to the toilet as if it were through the valley of the shadow of death itself! In reality, the distance was probably only a few meters. As I walked down the hall, I could feel the fear creeping up my back and materialize as a dark presence stalking my movements. For some reason, despite my anxiety and the cries of pain radiating from my bladder, I resolved to confront my fear. I resisted the urge to sprint down the hall and deliberately walked slowly. Part of me was attempting to convince myself that there wasn’t really anything to fear in the dark. Another part of me was challenging the darkness, the demons, and whatever other monsters lurked behind me and in the shadows. “Do your worst,” I whispered to the darkness, all the while hoping that nothing would do anything, especially not the worst. After what seemed to take several aeons, I arrived safely in the refuge of the bathroom and relieved myself. It was the bravest moment of my life.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, through the mouth of a wisened elder in Brothers Karamazov observed, “[F]ear is simply the consequence of every lie” (Brothers Karamazov, 58) While it seems a little harsh to say that my childhood self was afraid of the dark as a consequence of lies, I certainly was afraid of fictions created by my imagination. Fear rears its menacing head when the unknown is filled with lies or untruths.
1 John 4:18 says that “perfect love casts out fear.” I have often wondered what is meant by perfect love in this passage. In verse 12, John says, “No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us.” God’s love is perfected, or completed, in us when we love one another. God’s love is complete when it is participated in. This is a profound statement and lies at the heart of the mission of RS to venerate the living icons of God in our community. John says that no one has seen God but that we abide in God when we love. Loving the other is a way of “seeing” the invisible God. John takes this idea so far as to say that no one can love God when he doesn’t love his brother. Loving one another is loving God. This is the perfect love that casts out fear: the love of the other.
I am not all that different from my eight-year-old self. I still fear the darkness, but instead of the darkness in the bathroom hall, it is the darkness of my ignorance. When someone walks into RS behaving strangely or is dealing with life challenges that seem insurmountable, I am gripped by fear. When I alienate someone I radically disagree with in politics, faith, or philosophy, I am gripped by fear. Like a child, I make monsters out of people when I imagine what resides in the darkness. But, as Dostoyevsky said, this fear is produced by a lie – a lie I create. My fear of the other is birthed from a lack of relationship, a void filled with assumptions and untruths. This fear is cast out when I receive God’s perfect love and choose acts of veneration - respect and honor toward others.
Veneration is best practiced in much the same way I combatted my fear of the dark as a child. In order to see others as living icons of God, I need grace to slow down, to challenge the darkness of my ignorance and to listen. Although it may be uncomfortable and every part of me may long to run away in terror, perfect love would have me linger. Perfect love—the love of God extended to me and to those around me—desires to illumine my darkness. Perfect love invites me into relationship with those that I fear; it invites me to see God.
Article by Jonathan Reavis