When I was in primary school, I used to write behind my father’s back, when I saw him sitting quietly by the fire. The discovery of writing fascinated me, but the passion of reading has given me greater joys in my life outside. I have found no better way to multiply my soul than to become a bee that goes from book to book collecting the pollen of wisdom.
It is told that a man was walking through valleys and mountains, when suddenly a tiger appeared to him. He lay down and ran like a rocket, fearing that the beast was on his heels…. At this, he reached the edge of a precipice, over which he hung, clinging to a fig branch. Behind him, the tiger was sniffing at him; at the bottom, a lioness with sharp teeth ready to devour him. Then he saw a beautiful fig close by and, holding on to the branch with one hand, he caught it with the other. What a delight, what a drop of honey!
This kind of parable is a good illustration of today’s world. People are so full of worries, fears and anxieties that they neither savour the wonderful things that are within their reach nor are they saved.
Fear of violence and insecurity. Fear of wars and terrorism. Fear of unemployment and marginalisation. Fear of cancerous diseases or AIDS. Fear of the devastating effects of drugs. Fear of environmental catastrophe. Fear of weak instinct control. Fear of the negative influence of the media. Fear of the misuse of progress: of genetic engineering and atomic energy, for example. Fear of light and heavy weapons, chemical and biological.
Fear is the most dangerous virus. Nothing can be built on fear. Fear paralyses. Pessimism cuts off the legs and wings of the fearful and produces in them effects contrary to their aspirations. A young person who is afraid of taking responsibility will be buried by the thorns of existence. A father afraid of his children’s future surrounds them with prohibitions and walls that will only make them inhibited or rebellious. A politician incapable of taking the right measures is even unpopular. An anguished priest or bishop will produce people who are unbelieving or disinterested in a faith that does not burn or enlighten.
Fear is a miserable substitute for hope and love. But even in Christianity fear was cultivated. “Since they are not saved by love, let them at least be saved by fear”, thought certain terrorist preachers of the past. Only no one is saved by fear. Fear makes our path so dark that we dare not step forward.
And the truth is that there are beautiful things beyond the avalanche of scandals, crimes, and wars, crisis announcements, with which we are landed every day. There are not only wild beasts and the abyss; there are also figs of honey ripening. For the darkest night we have at least a match in our pocket. In the most desperate times there is always a crumb of joy that should not be wasted. In the driest deserts there is never lacking a shy flower to captivate us. Even in the blackest pit we have opened, overhead, a nesga of blue sky. We can explore the immense energies within ourselves. We can trust in the inner riches of the people around us. And we can above all trust in God, who even takes care of the little birds.
To savour the present moment is not to put one’s head under one’s wing and cross one’s arms, hovering over the abyss. It is to scan for any sign of salvation. It is to keep alive and burning the flame of hope, which Garaudy defined as “militant anticipation of the future”. It is to appeal to the courage and audacity that make human beings great. To move, to act, to fight.
Because “it is better to kindle a light than to curse the darkness”. Our redemption and that of the world is not achieved through miracles, but through small and passionate gestures. The important thing is that we strive, drop by drop, to sow tiny solutions and to live at full throttle. If we add hope and courage, tomorrow will be better. If we wallow in fear and bitterness, we are already defeated.
In truth, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. And who says fear says mediocrity, cowardice, a mania for living without a gearbox.
The parable I narrated at the beginning had a happy ending: the tiger and the lioness broke each other and the man, catching them distractedly fighting, made a supreme effort and managed to escape from danger and return home. In his mouth he had a sweet taste of honey figs.
Abílio Pina Ribeiro, cmf