Often I try to create a theme for my year while on retreat. But the year itself seems to inevitably do the business for me.  This year, the recurring theme has been love and fear; as in fear is inevitably the opposite of love.  Oh, there are fears inherent in our lives, and they are connected intimately with love.  We fear bad consequences to those whom we love the most.  I recall Paul speaking of a fear that abides in me, “there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches.”  (2Cor 11:28) But the fear that opposes love is crippling.  That fear resists the unknown, the great leap of faiths that propel us to new heights.  That prefers the familiarity of the status quo even when that status quo is dangerous, unjust of unsatisfying.  In fearing the even possibly worse rather than embracing the hope of the imagined new, fear stretches the long night and robs the dawn of its brilliant breaking.  Imagination becomes an enemy and creativity a threat.  And while the urge to love is universal, the weight of the change is too heavy to bear.   Our most basic animal urge is for preservation.  Our most divine capability is to love.  The battle of love and fear challenges us to live the life of heaven.
This becomes some people’s story all of the time and each of our stories at some time.  It can even affect entire nations.  While I was in South Africa, I wondered how a monstrous system such as apartheid could emerge around so many good people.  It could only be fear.  The high walls and barbed wire that surrounded every home in the formerly all white area in which we stayed spoke of the fear.  They were convinced that the black majority would erupt in violence to protest a system which at some level, they must have known was unfair.  But rather than embracing a more just future, they barricaded themselves in a prison of hatred.  And the minority power used fear’s inevitable and relentless weapon:  violence –  the least creative response possible.  Such fear and hatred could only be opposed and eventually overcome by sacrifice (the very thing that fear cannot consider), imagination and love.  That is why the great liberators such as Mandela, Gandhi and King have always known that the freedom they sought was not just for themselves or their people, but their oppressors as well, who could graduate from fear to love.
In Christ, we find our hope in this endless struggle that can consume countries, is at the heart of every was, and wages in each heart.  The cross is a monument to fear.  It represents the preservation of power at all costs, resistance to God’s kingdom and the ultimate use of force.  But Jesus goes to the instrument of fear and lays down his life, forgives his killers and conquers fear and death.  “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear” (1Jn 4:18).   When we carry our crosses, we do not so much pick up a burden, but we choose the gift of putting the other first, of taking a risk for love, of offering an open hand and not a closed fist.   We find our way to salvation and freedom.