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Narrative Lectionary Text: Psalm 27:1-6
When my daughter Micki was 7 or 8 years old we were swimming at a friends house one Sunday afternoon.
Lona and I were standing in the shallow end, watching as the kids were doing back flips off the edge of the pool into the deep end. Over and over they would flip themselves backwards, do a spin, and land in the water.
Micki pushed off for another flip. She got lots of air, but she didn’t push out far enough. She went straight up.
My brain did the calculations and I knew exactly where her head was going to hit…
I’ve been doing a lot of reading about fear this week, and about the anatomy of fear.
It is fascinating what happens in the brain when something scares us. When a stimulus enters the brain, through something we see, something we hear, smell, or touch. It sends a signal to the center of our brain.
The brain is divided into three basic parts.
There is the brain stem, or what some call the reptile brain. It is pure instinct.
Then there is the middle of the brain where the thalamus and the hypothalamus sit. This is the seat of emotion. Some call it the Mammal brain. Mammals feel emotions. That’s why my dog is so happy when he sees come home, or why my Mom’s cat treats me with contempt whenever I try to pet him.
Finally, there is the human part of the brain. The cerebral cortex is the part of the brain where high-functioning reason and abstract thought takes place.
When fear stimulus enters the brain it shoots right into the center of the brain, to this little piece called the amygdala. The Amygdala, then signals the pituitary gland to release massive amounts of adrenaline and cortisol into the system.
This causes what some call the reptilian regression. The cortex shuts down, the emotions go numb, and we do one of three things. We either
Fear can cause even the most trained professionals to do irrational things. It can even cause a passifist to kill.
Another interesting thing that happens in fear is the time slows down.
Back to Micki…
While she hung in the air and her head was pointed to the edge of the pool, it was like time expanded. I ran multiple scenarios in my head.
Worst case: She dies. I saw myself at her funeral.
Next worst case: she is a quadrapalegic. I saw hospitals and wheelchairs.
All of this is happening while my body is pushing through the water, in slow motion.
Her head smacks the edge of the pool. Her neck snaps back. Swoosh. She slips under the water.
Lona is three steps ahead of me.
That was the longest breath of my life.
The next thing I know, Micki pops up out of the water screaming, “I’m never doing a backflip again!”
She had an instant dark purple egg on her forhead and scrapes down her face, but, by the grace of God, she was fine.
Fear is a powerful emotion.
Today we are looking at Psalm 27.
David writes this Psalm in a moment of his life when he is surrounded by his enemy. War is brewing right outside his window. People want to kill him and his family.
He writes, “The Lord is my light and my salvation!” That is the correct answer.
Then he asks the question, “Whom shall I fear?”
How would you answer that? What do you fear?
If I’m being honest, I would answer, “everyone and everything.”
I think fear is one of the biggest problems we have in our world today.
I hear about the shooting in Charleston. A young man enters a church, sits in the prayer meeting for a while, then guns everybody down. You don’t think that hits close to home?
I think about the future. I think about the mounting hostility between nations, the ticking time-bomb around the issue of our limited resources of energy and water.
What kind of world are we leaving for our children and grandchildren.
There is a definite increase of general anxiety in our society, and I think it is associated with these issues.
Yesterday I was talking with my son Ethan about these things and we had an idea.
Many of you may not be aware, but Ethan struggles with a severe anxiety disorder. We both agreed that it might be helpful for people at Grace if I interviewed him about what it is like to experience fear in this way, and how Psalm 27 connects to anxiety.
We talked for a half hour, so it was hard to distill it down to just five minutes. I hope you find this helpful.
The antidote to fear is beauty. When we breathe and meditate on God’s beauty, and the beauty of God in all things, then, perhaps, we will stop hurting each other and learn to live in peace, without fear.
“David wanted to dwell in the house of the Lord, in the temple, in the sanctuary all the days of his life and behold the beauty of God. In the New Testament, we come to realize that God is not confined to living in a house of worship, is not confined to temple or a sanctuary. The beauty of God goes way beyond a physical building called a temple.
So I translate this verse from Psalm 27:4: “One thing I seek…to live in the presence of the Lord … all the days of my life…and to behold God’s beauty.”
Could you repeat the verse with me? In four phrases.
“One thing I seek: ONE THING I SEEK.
“To live in the presence of the Lord. TO LIVE IN THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD.
all the days of my life; ALL THE DAYS OF MY LIFE.
“And to behold God’s beauty. AND TO BEHOLD GOD’S BEAUTY.
Let’s say the whole verse together: ‘One thing I seek, to live in the presence of the Lord all the days of my life, and to behold God’s beauty.’”1
- adapted from http://www.sermonsfromseattle.com/series_a_the_beauty_of_god.htm [↩]