Fear

Julian understands “four kinds of fear”. The first two are the kind we are tempted to by our reaction to events: the “fear of fright which comes to a man suddenly through weakness”, and the “fear of pain...of bodily death and spiritual enemies”. These can both serve to purge us, often showing us those places within us which most need yielding to grace. The third, “doubtful fear”, is one of the “sicknesses of soul” from which we most suffer, and which we are tempted to as a failure of understanding. Of doubtful fear Julian says, “insofar as it draws us to despair, God wills to have transformed in us into love by true acknowledgement of Love...that the bitterness of doubt be turned into the sweetness of natural love by grace”.

When it comes to fears that confront us most often, “fear of spiritual enemies” probably does not top the list. It would seem like doubtful fear would garner that distinction; in our time invitations to psychological stress and anxiety are not lacking. But it may be that fear of spiritual enemies is where our greatest struggle actually lies. We are shown and taught in Christ the way of love we are to follow, but still try to justify our fears and subsequent condemnation of those who disturb or terrify us by such small means as contempt, scorn, and mockery, or even focusing only on the sins we perceive in them. Christ Jesus, who “came to destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God” wants for us more than just this small attempt at coping. What he offers is the freedom of growing beyond this kind of fear altogether.

The fourth fear Julian lists is “reverent fear” which is “most gentle” and sweet. Even if we cannot live in this life wholly without fear, it is truly possible to live in such a way that the three fears that tempt us most will gradually cease to torment us, and, even in the midst of what seems most terrifying, to dwell in a peace that surpasses understanding.

 

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