Last spring on the Arrupe post-trip retreat, we received letters that we had written to ourselves 7 months before, on the fall pre-trip retreat. In the fall, one of the things I had written in my letter was a list of all of my greatest fears at the time. In the spring, when I read that letter, every single one of the things I had feared had happened. And yet, when I read the letter back, I felt this overwhelming peace. I remember sitting outside on a snowy ledge at the Connors Family Retreat center, thinking about fear, and feeling overwhelmed by the goodness of God, in the realization that he is so much bigger than my fears.
Then this past week, with the news that Donald Trump would become president, half of our nation faced the same realization that their biggest fear had become a reality. This is a fear unlike any they have felt, a fear that truly makes many wonder what will happen on a global scale. This fear is personal for many, but of course it is also much much larger than that. But as I lay in bed in the wee hours of the morning of November 9th, it struck me that this fear is still just that. It is fear, which is powerful and by definition scary, but it is not bigger or stronger than God.
Many of those who face this fear, are those who liberation theologians broadly refer to as the poor: that is not only the economically poor, but also immigrants, the sick, the unemployed and underemployed and all those who suffer. I do not intend to say there aren't plenty of poor Americans who feel no fear in the face of this election, but there are many who do. So then, how do we recognize that all of this fear is real, without giving it too much power?
We must first know that our God is not a God who promises that everything will be “okay” – He did not promise that to me last year when my fears started becoming realities, nor does He promise that to our nation now. Monseñor Oscar Romero writes that while being Christian separatists would be nice, the heart of Jesus’ call is “the beautiful but harsh truth that the Christian faith does not cut us off from the world but immerses us in it.” However, we are not immersed in it alone, because Jesus is a Lord and a God who promises that He will be here “always, to the end of the age” (Mt. 28:20). No fear could conquer his companionship. No reality could be too heavy to bear or too hard to live through.
So because He is a good God and a loving God, His spirit will be present to comfort the marginalized and those who face great suffering in the face of policy changes. He will walk alongside his faithful through the valley of death if that's what it takes, along the long hard road to justice. God does not say “Sorry about what happened, good luck!” He says, “I am God and you are not, so trust me. Lean into me. Feel my presence. I am here, I am going nowhere. No fear can conquer my companionship.”
In the darkest moments of my own fears coming true, I did indeed feel very scared. There were days when I couldn't stand up tall and proceed with strength, so I won't call upon the fearful in our nation to do the same. We cannot be expected to be valiant soldiers for justice all the time. Not giving our fear power means also knowing how to surrender before Jesus, and say “we are scared and we need you”. In my own greatest moments of fear, I always remind myself of Psalm 139:12, which says “even darkness is not dark to you, for the night is as bright as the day.” That is to say darkness is real, and feels dark for us humans, but God is stronger than the darkness and present in it, just as the moon and stars light up the night.
Earlier I mentioned some words from Oscar Romero which he said in reference to his own Salvadoran community in 1980. Their situation cannot really be compared to the current United States because it was so grave, but likewise it caused great fear. The poverty and injustice the poor faced was literally taking hundreds of lives, and thousands more feared death every day. But the beauty of El Salvador, what made this a tragic but sacred moment in history, was the voices of people like Romero, who recognized the real presence of God amidst the fear. Romero proclaimed that “we believe in a living God who gives life to men and women and wants them truly to live”. He pointed to a God still incarnate in the world today, a God who fights for those who suffer and is present with them in a unique way.
So yes, there is fear. But also, more importantly, every human who feels fear has access to a God who will not abandon us, because He loves us. Just as I can look back at my fears now and recognize God’s presence in every moment as they came to pass, I have faith that someday our country will look back on these moments and know that God was here, present, and still moving. We will feel afraid, as it is a natural human emotion. But we must resist the temptation to believe that God is greater than our fear. For “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39)