Oh freedom

In my earliest memory I am frightened by a crow. I am two years old and I am in my backyard on a red tricycle. I hear a loud squawk. I look up. It’s a bird, a large black bird, perched on the bar of my swing set. I am afraid. I climb off the tricycle. I turn my head to the house. I see a woman inside an open doorway, sitting at a sewing machine. The woman is my mother. I run to her.

Martin Luther King, Jr. once wrote a sermon entitled “Antidotes for Fear.” 

He gave the sermon while fighting for civil rights. He gave the sermon while black men and black women were marching and singing “Oh, Freedom.” But he may as well have written the sermon today, in our own time of racism and riots, of politics and pandemic. “Everywhere,” he wrote, “there are people depressed and bewildered, irritable and nervous all because of the monster of fear.”

Dr. King says you can’t cure fear with escapism, and you can’t cure fear with repression. Lord knows we have tried. I know I have, anyway.

The antidote to fear, King argues, is love. “The New Testament is right in saying, ‘there is no fear in love, but perfect love cast out fear,’” he says. “Now the word ‘love’ in the New Testament is not something soft, anemic and sentimental. It is a very strong love that could carry Christ to a cross and send Paul sailing unembittered through the angry seas of persecution. It is love facing evil with an infinite capacity to take it without flinching, to overcome the world by the cross.”

When I was two years old, I didn’t know about escapism or repression. I didn’t know about racism or pandemics or politics. I didn’t know that Jesus had overcome the world by the cross. I knew about fear, though. I felt it. And I felt it fizzle when I ran to the one behind an open door, the one who was looking after me. I knew what it was to run from fear into love.