Have no anxiety at all (Phil. 4:6)…unless you have anxiety (2 Cor. 11:28), part II

In conclusion…Here are some journal notes from years ago, insights harvested from my anxious trials:

I was working in the garden the other week. I’ve been so busy of late, the weeds had grown thick. I worked carefully for hours pulling them carefully, and my hands were all cut up from the brambles. Afterward, I added some 5-10-5. Today the flowers have resumed their dominance with a protest of fresh sprays of color. But I see those root fragments I left from the weeds are rising again. I’m ready for them.

Jesus’ agony of soul and sanguine sweat in the Garden of Gethsemane was itself to become a garden that I have today welcomed into my body and soul. Jesus enters my pain with His and cultivates, working to make of me rich soils by the whirlwind of inner seed-bearing storms (Job 38:1). The garden within me receives the seeds of the Anxious Word who tills by the swaying pull of twin yoked oxen: “Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me” and “nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). Into this plowing labor, cutting deep with blood-soaked crossbeam into the hardened earth, oscillating betwixt terror and surrender, are sown those Godded (such a verb!) seeds, sprouting up for the harvest, the re-creation of all things under the now-serene Gardener. O felix culpa!

To seek healing in the cross of Christ means to plow with, and be plowed by God, to have eyes unveiled to see our struggles transformed thus. Victory is found in the midst of battle. Life found in the midst of dying. Christ-healing is not a mere vanishing evil or ill, but is a refiner’s fire, a metamorphosis that re-creates my nature (what I am) and person (who I am) in Christ and extends out into the whole web of creation into which God has woven my existence.  “But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world (kosmos) has been crucified to me, and I to the world (kosmō)” (Gal. 6:14). Through, with and in me, the temple and microcosm of creation, God transforms the cosmos into the Garden He desired from the beginning.

Jesus opens His preaching in Mark’s Gospel with the word “repent!” – in Greek, metanoia. Metanoia means changing mind and heart. St. Paul calls this metanoia “transformation” in Romans 12:2: “Be transformed (metamorphousthe) by the renewal of your mind.” The “new form” that is wrought by that transforming is what the rest of Romans chapter 12 is all about. I love to read it again and again, like looking into a mirror to see not who you are but who you are to become. Loving with a Christ-mind once forged in the fires of suffering (Hebrews 2:10). Who I become through my struggles is far more essential than anything God could do for me without my trans-forming cooperation. It’s all so paradoxical! Here’s a wild thought I just had in the stream of consciousness: We serve a God clothed with weak-power who entered our nighttime battle of faith, fighting with unarmed love, against an enemy whom God wishes to utterly defeat by means of tender mercies unleashed by our violence…mercies gushing eternally from the torn-open-by-us Heart of God. With St. Thomas the Apostle, we are called to enter by faith into that opening in the Sacred Heart of Jesus and join the battle that is within being waged on behalf of all and for all.

Holy schmolly.

I once was speaking with a Catholic practitioner of the “inner healing” movement, and shared with her on this point. She objected that Christians should be able to name and claim God’s complete healing, and not have to endure long years of struggle with this or that malady, as Jesus can work miracles and is able to trade our sorrows for joy, our sickness for health, and so on. I said, what if we could combine both of those together, not simply claiming the victory of the cross for me as a freedom from trials (Acts 14:22), but rather joining the cross-bearing Victor, co-crucified with Him for the life of the world (cf Col. 1:24; Gal. 2:20)? This is the “word of the cross” (1 Cor. 1:18). With St. James 1:2 we could “count it all joy” when we are involved in every sort of trial; or with Peter in 1 Peter 1:7 we could profess that “the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”  We Christians are in the business of gold-making and not gold-claiming. Indeed, we make and store up all our “gold,” forged in life’s refining fire, as an imperishable Treasure in heaven (Mark 10:21).

A few years after my anxiety crisis had passed, in 1994, The Pretenders released a new song. When I first heard it, I enjoyed its story of faithful friendship. But in 1997, when I suffered a brief and very intense recurrence of anxiety, I heard this song play on the radio one afternoon on the way home from work. There and then I received a fresh and tear-filled infusion of grace. God was again with me, in the terror, and He sang with me in those lyrics:

4 comments on “Have no anxiety at all (Phil. 4:6)…unless you have anxiety (2 Cor. 11:28), part II

  1. Jennifer says:

    As you already know, yesterday’s post was my favourite Neal Obstat post of all time. Love, love, love. I am so glad you reposted it. And now today’s reflection, this fleshing out of your insight, is a great help as a guide. Thank you for sharing with us all.

  2. johnjanaro says:

    Both of these posts are great, and they correspond to my own experience struggling with various illnesses including depression, bi-polar, and OCD. Christ’s way of healing keep my hope alive, and it also focuses my theological reflections which continue (slowly) even though I’ve had to retire from active teaching. Thank you for what you’ve written here, and God bless you.

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