2013-03-28 / News

Ecumenical Corner

By the Rev. KATHRYN PALEN

TLove expands. Fear contracts. hose two simple sentences stood out in an article I read several years ago. With only four words, they express a powerful message that’s stayed with me.

Love expands. Fear contracts.

Fear seems to run rampant in our lives today. We’re afraid we might fail or be rejected. We’re afraid of public speaking, closed-in places, spiders and the economy. We’re afraid of being alone or being in a crowd. We’re afraid of cancer, pollution, war and AIDS. We’re afraid of losing our material goods or our social standing.

We may be so afraid that we never risk commitment or intimacy. We may be so afraid that we never get beyond our “comfort zones.” We may be so afraid that we never try anything new, never risk reaching out, or never dare to express ourselves.

It’s true that fear has its place. It’s an emotion designed to alert us to possible danger. It causes our adrenalin to increase, which can make us more alert and able to deal with those dangerous situations. Fear, when dealt with properly, can energize us.

But too often fear does the opposite. Instead of giving us energy, it causes us to contract. We pull into the confines we’ve constructed in an effort to protect ourselves. We circle the wagons in the hope that living in a small, tight manner will keep us safe.

Love expands. Fear contracts.

Hebrew and Christian scriptures contain story after story of individuals who face significant moments of decision or transition, and who hear a simple divine message: “Do not fear.” What often follows those words is a reminder of the power of love.

For me – as one who stands within the Christian tradition – that is one of the central messages of Easter. The events of Holy Week and Easter morning reveal a God who displays great love. This love involves a willingness to be vulnerable and risk rejection; to care for others in a way that allows their fate to affect one’s own; and to give to others even when there’s a real cost to oneself.

The Easter story could have been one of fearful contraction. God could have pulled away or even struck back when humanity rejected the loving gift embodied in Jesus. But, at least as I understand it, God’s love expands to show the possibility of new life – even when death threatens to have the final word.

Love expands. Fear contracts.

Responding in love can be risky. It makes us vulnerable. It involves opening ourselves to the possibility of being hurt or used or rejected.

Responding in love also requires practice. It simply may not come as naturally to us as does responding in fear.

One starting point might be to invest time in getting to know others. It is impossible to love other people authentically if we do not know them, and we cannot know them if we never spend time with them. In a culture of rushing and overscheduling, it can be a huge challenge to find time to spend with others – whether it is our family, our friends, or members of our community. But spending time with others expands our perspective, our sense of compassion, our belief in new possibilities.

Responding in love also opens us to the surprise of transformation. If we love someone else, we may see that person flourish in new ways. Our investment of love also may bring about a transformation in the larger community – resulting in greater health and vitality in our family, our neighborhood, our world. And loving others may well change us, transforming and expanding the way we approach life.

Love expands. Fear contracts.

Those two simple sentences provide a powerful message as we move through this time of the year – a time marked by new life and new beginnings.

The author is the pastor of Central Baptist Church.

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