I want to share an article I wrote for our local newspaper recently, in response to the multiple terror attacks.
Choose Love Not Fear
How do people of faith make sense of the horror of terrorism attacks in Paris, Lebanon, Syria, Russia and so many places around the world? These are questions I am dealing with right now, especially because I have friends in Paris, and because I had a wonderful trip there a year ago, where my only concern was pickpockets. The spiritual principle for me in this context is “Choose love, not fear.” For me, God is love, and fear is an expression of not trusting God’s greater good.
When I find myself fearful, which happens more than I would like to admit, I try to remember to choose love, and not give into fear. The descriptions in the news of the actions of the terrorists in Paris did evoke fear in me. It made me wonder if I would ever want to go to Paris again. Or New York. Or London. Or any other place that I imagine a terrorist might want to attack. And I can easily slip into thinking of the shootings in theaters, churches, schools, and the Oklahoma City bombing. Or closer to home, I think about the student who killed a professor in his office in the building next to where I used to work at the University of Arkansas. It’s so easy to be afraid. But that is not what spiritual traditions teach us.
In the Bible, every time an angel appears to a prophet or to someone like Mary, the angel says “fear not.” Melinda Martin, a minister’s wife in Texas, went through her concordance and found that “fear not” is listed 80+ times, and other similar phrases such as “be not afraid” are used 30+ times. Some examples are:
“And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified (Matthew 28:5).”
“But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John (Luke 1:13).”
The Hebrew Bible offers this spiritual guidance: “Be not afraid of sudden fear, neither of the desolation of the wicked, when it cometh (Proverbs 3:25).” What an interesting phrase “Desolation of the wicked.” A definition of desolation is “a state of complete emptiness or destruction.” The etomology of the word is from Latin, desolare, ‘to abandon.’ But who or what is abandoned when a person or group willingly causes desolation? Perhaps they have abandoned God, or feel abandoned by a materialistic society, or perhaps they have abandoned their own soul. I can read it this word as ‘de-soul-ation,’ even though this is incorrect etomologically. It might be correct theologically. Somehow these individuals have lost their own soul in the willingness to create terror and havoc among their human brothers and sisters.
Can my understanding from this perspective lead me to more compassion for people who commit heinous acts? I wish I could say I was there, and I hope to get there someday. I still find myself in grief and feeling empathy for the innocent victims of these acts. Perhaps over time, or as I evolve on my spiritual path, compassion for terrorists and other perpetrators of violence will come to me more naturally and more quickly.
After 9/11, the Dalai Lama said, “Terrorism cannot be overcome by the use of force because it does not address the complex underlying problems. In fact the use of force may not only fail to solve the problems, it may exacerbate them and frequently leaves destruction and suffering in its wake. Human conflicts should be resolved with compassion. The key is non-violence…I would also like to point out that talk of nonviolence when things are going smoothly is not of much relevance. It is precisely when things become really difficult, urgent and critical that we should think and act nonviolently.”
In response to questions about the Paris attacks, the Dalai Lama has a very interesting perspective on how to take spiritual action. He said during an interview, “We cannot solve this problem only through prayers. I am a Buddhist and I believe in praying. But humans have created this problem, and now we are asking God to solve it. It is illogical. God would say, solve it yourself because you created it in the first place.”
I am not an expert on international relations or on Middle East history or in any other field that would allow me to offer suggestions to leaders about how to solve this problem. I don’t have the answers. What I hold onto is the belief that humanity is evolving, as Teilhard de Chardin explains so eloquently, and that there is a very large body of evidence that we collectively are getting less violent each century, decade and year. Steven Pinker, a professor at Harvard University, has documented the decline of violence from Biblical times to the present and says, “we are living in the most peaceful time in our species’ existence.” It’s difficult to believe this if you spend a lot of time reading the news, but the fact is – violence sells. However, it is not the way most humans conduct themselves in the world.
The news is not likely to guide us in seeing acts of kindness and compassion in the world, so its up to us individually and collectively to see and foster compassion where ever we can – to choose love, not fear. Fayetteville has been designated as a Compassionate City by the International Campaign for Compassionate Communities. Compassion Fayetteville focuses on documenting daily acts of kindness. “Seek and ye shall find (Matthew 7:7).” “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7).” There are many opportunities every day to choose love not fear. By paying attention to this choice, we can move towards more love in the world. That is the best way I know of, in this moment, to combat terrorism. It’s not much, but it’s all I’ve got.
Dr. Judi Neal is the Chairman and CEO of Edgewalkers International, a consulting firm focused on workplace spirituality. She is the author of four books, including Edgewalkers, and Creating Enlightened Organizations.