From Fear to Faith

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.  He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”                           Mark 4:39-40

The apostle Paul tells us that we are to be transformed by the renewing of our mind (Rom 12:2).  This is the invitation of the gospel—to be converted, in mind and spirit, from what we once were to that which we can only become through faith in Christ.  To the Catholic theologian Robert Barron, this conversion represents a transformation from a mindset of fear to one of faith.  In his book And Now I See, he explains how this exchange more properly defines the word “repentance.”

The word so often used and so misleadingly translated as “repent” is metanoite. The English word “repent” has a moralizing overtone, suggesting a change in behaviour or action, whereas Jesus’ term speaks of change at a far more fundamental level of one’s being. This Greek term, metanoite, that we translate as “repent” is based on two words, meta (beyond) and nous (mind or spirit).  In its most basic form it means to “go beyond the mind that you have.”

For Barron, to go “beyond the mind that you have” is to exchange an orientation of fear for one more rooted in faith.  He describes some of the conditions of fear that we shed as part of this conversion.

When the trials and anxieties of life confront the ego, the first reaction is fear, since the ego is fundamentally persuaded that there is nothing “under” it or “behind” it, no power beyond itself upon which it can rely.  Fear is a function of our lives at the surface level. When we fear, we cling to who we are and what we have; when we are afraid, we see ourselves as the threatened center of a hostile universe, and thus we strive to defend ourselves as we lash out at potential adversaries, real or imagined.

The opposite of fear, of course, is faith—the disposition that we assume only as we align ourselves more securely to the fact that it is God who undergirds life.  Barron writes,

At the foundation of our existence, we are one with the divine power which continually creates and sustains the universe, held and cherished by the infinite love of God.  When we rest in this center and realize its power, we know that, in an ultimate sense, we are safe, or in a more theological term, we are “saved.”  And therefore we can let go of fear and begin to live in radical trust.  But when we lose sight of this rootedness in God, our lives are more dominated by fear and we live more exclusively on the tiny island of the ego.

Jesus’ promise of abundant life is directly related to His command for us to exercise faith.  Faith expands our sense of freedom and therefore our experience of life.  Barron comments on this increase when he writes,

To overcome fear is to move from the pusilla anima (the small soul) to the magna anima (the great soul).  When we are dominated by our egos, we live in a very narrow space of fear.  But when we surrender in faith to God our souls become great, roomy and expansive.

The story of Jesus calming the storm contrasts the fact that the Lord is “asleep on a cushion” while the disciples are panicking in fear.  To Barron, this disposition of rest symbolizes faith, unaffected by the fear-storms that would otherwise dictate our experience of life.  Faith turns the tables on our fears.  It calms the waves and stills the storms that otherwise cause us to shrink back to our smaller state of soul.  Instead, we get to approach all things with the more expansive soul of faith.