Saturday, February 8, 2014

that Fear is False Evidence Appearing Real

My son, Blake, and I were reading about Prince Henry the Navigator for a History lesson. Henry was the fourth son of a king of Portugal in the Middle Ages. Knowing he'd never inherit the throne, he got to please himself and follow his own interests, which happened to be love of the sea and exploration. Henry built fleets of ships, intending to send them south, down the West African coast. He hoped to build relationships with the native west African people. Sailors had to learn to read star maps and old archaic astrolabes and compasses at a school of navigation set up by Prince Henry.

His problem was fear. Not his own, but that of the sailors. Nobody had ever been very far south before. Africa was known as "The Dark Continent" because of its mystery and possible danger, and that part of the Atlantic Ocean which Henry intended to launch off into was known as, "The Sea of Darkness." Sailors were certain they'd run into savage sea monsters and fierce whirlpools. Some thought that as they sailed further south, the ocean would become so shallow that their ships would get fatally wrecked on the sea bottom, or that strong currents would pull them off into nowhere, never to return. There was also a strong belief that the sun down south would be so scorching hot that the seawater would boil them alive.

The result was that Prince Henry would pour funds into his navigation school and pay for expedition after expedition, but the ships would return after a short time, full of woebegone sailors who were simply too frightened to go far. They'd reach a certain point and then decide to turn around and head back up to Portugal. It was years before a brave explorer named Gil Eannes pushed through, and discovered that the sea further south was actually pretty similar to that up north.

I've heard that a suitable acronym for the word FEAR may be False Evidence Appearing Real. This was certainly the case for those nervous Portuguese sailors! For them, that part of the Atlantic Ocean along the western coast of Africa might as well have been a boiling cauldron full of seething, heat-resistant monsters, because their fear made it true for them.

It's easy to shake our heads at their fear in retrospect, but I had to question whether our fearful moments may be the same. Over the years, I've experienced several fearful predicaments and maladies which turned out to have no basis in reality. But boy, was I scared when I thought they did! It might as well have been true, during those times. Not long ago, I was out walking and almost stepped on an old, squashed paper cup from Gloria Jean's, but as I glanced down, I thought it was a dead, black crow. Relief came when I saw my mistake, but by then, my heart was already thumping hard, my pulse racing and my skin recoiling. The fear-disgust response had already been set off, so as far as my body was concerned, that old cup might as well have been a bird carcass.

Life is too short for unnecessary fear. It steals peace of mind which we may otherwise enjoy. I've been wondering how we can short-circuit limiting fear and have lives of faith instead. I think it all comes down to not just giving lip-service to what we say we believe, but truly believing it. For many of us, it may be faith in a sacred text. For me, it's the Bible. For years, I declared that I believed the promises to be found in the Bible, but in moments of fear, I had to question whether I really did.

I love the thought of an invisible realm around us, protecting and caring for us. The Bible tells us that this realm, although invisible, is a reality. I love how we're told about the unseen forces of angel warriors in 2Kings chapter 6. The prophet Elisha's young servant (maybe the hapless Gehazi) was filled with fear when he saw the hostile army of Aram surrounding them. He wondered why his master wasn't terrified, but Elisha simply said, 'Don't worry about it. There are more on our side than their side.' Then he prayed for the young man's eyes to be opened. It happened. The young servant saw that the whole mountainside was full of a strong, angelic army protecting them. He understood that they'd been there all along, only they'd been invisible to him until that point. Of course, that was all that was needed to help him relax. And it's the same for us. Invisible doesn't mean that this force of love and protection isn't a reality for us too.

So in the light of this, we've got to get it into our heads that the notion of being alone, unprotected, uncared for and vulnerable is FEAR, False Evidence Appearing Real. Our five senses, and what we read and hear from others who are using only their five senses, isn't all there is to know. I like that perspective.

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