Sunday, June 5, 2011

The relationship between love and fear

June 5, 2011

Dear Friends,

As I explained last week, during the last day of my vacation Miss Annie had an unfortunate experience. While climbing up to her favorite perch in the garage, she fell, and a rug fell on her.

The experience taught her new empathy for Humpty Dumpty (appropriate training for a therapy cat). Unfortunately, Miss Annie also learned to be afraid of the garage, afraid of the approach to her perch, and afraid of the perch itself. When I attempted to carry her to her perch, she growled (a serious, no-nonsense growl with teeth showing), and sank her claws into my shirt in a “Won’t be moved” position that left some marks through the shirt into my shoulder. Miss Annie had experienced major trauma, and my soothing sounds made absolutely no impact on her fears, nor did my presence.

Miss Annie had decided apparently to handle her fear by never entering the garage again. I suspect that she said to herself (in Kat, of course), “I should have known better than to go into that garage. That garage door always made a terrible sound, and I saw with my own eyes that garage door go up and down without any human present. It is likely that whole affair was the fault of that mysterious garage door—the door hit me and threw that rug on my head. A terrible experience that no therapy cat should ever be required to endure. I am not going back there again.”

What to do?

“What to do?—Why, do nothing,” my friends said. (I suspect they were secretly amused by my concern for Miss Annie.) “She’ll get over it or she won’t. It’s no big deal.” Their reasoning appeared to run something like this: after all, charming and special as she is, Miss Annie is just a cat. Let Miss Annie be afraid or figure it out. “Why in the world,” my friends appeared to wonder, “are you giving this a second thought? Surely as Miss Annie’s human, your responsibility for her care does not extend this far.”

But as you know, I think that the world is indeed text.

What could I learn from Miss Annie’s experience and her response? What, if anything, could I do to change Miss Annie’s response? And what, if anything, should I do? What made Miss Annie’s fear any of my business anyway?

Examined carefully, that question turned out to be more complex than I expected. Fear had come to shelter under my roof, to take up residence in a space that, so far as I am able, I have committed to peace and love. Was this fear meaningless because it was bundled in the senses and synapses of a small four-footed creature whose feline language and logic made her inner world significantly removed from my own?

What did I think about fear? Do only my own fears merit concern? If not, why not?

You know from last week’s introduction to Miss Annie’s theology course that I eventually devised a plan to help Miss Annie to regain access to her much loved perch. The “how to help” was preceded, however, by my effort to work out a logic of caring. What does love compel me to do when I am confronted with fear, even when that love is as simple as affection for a pet and the fear as primitive as Miss Annie’s panic in the garage?

The apostle John, considering the relationship of love and fear, wrote: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear (I John 4:18a RVS).”

What happens if I assume that both the biblical record of John’s thinking and the world I experience with Miss Annie are both texts for living, although texts of vastly different kinds and validity? Can these diverse texts taken together lead to logic of caring that incorporates Miss Annie and her fears? Since the fear is Miss Annie’s is the responsibility for dealing with it solely hers? Is the solution just for Miss Annie to love me more? Or for me to love her more?

Thinking with you about and love and fear and the ways in which in daily life we are changed by both.

See you next week.


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