And becoming a master of Love
One night many years ago, Angie Gorman was in bed at home alone when a man kicked open the door of her bedroom. This was a time before cell phones and her only phone was a landline downstairs.
The man was verbally abusive as he approached her bed. Gorman recalls lying there in abject fear, feeling vulnerable. What went through her mind at that moment though was not thoughts of escape (where could she go?), or screaming (that was useless, she thought since no one was around to hear her). She also thought about how silly it would be to have a gun under her pillow to defend herself.
“Somehow,” she said, “I could not imagine this man standing patiently by while I reached under my pillow for my gun.”
It was her next thought, that she says she believed saved her life.
“I realized with a certain clarity,” she said, “that either he and I made it through this situation safely, together, or we would both be damaged.”
In that moment, she says she found herself acting out of concern for both of their safety – keeping him from committing a more heinous act that would do damage both her and him. That thought, she said, disarmed her. It didn’t eliminate her fear, she said, but it did loosen fear’s grip on her just enough for her to see what she needed to do: talk to him.
She asked him what time it was. He answered, and as the conversation went on, the tension in the room began to ease. She asked how he got in, and he told her he had broken the glass on the back door. She told him that she didn’t have the money to get that fixed. That’s when he began to tell her about his own financial struggles.
“We talked,” she said, “until we were no longer strangers and I felt it was safe to ask him to leave.”
He didn’t want to leave. He told her that he had no place to go. She offered to let him stay the night on her couch. Which he did. She said she stayed up all night, “wide awake and shaking.” The next morning, she made him breakfast and he left.
Gorman was able to defuse the violence of the situation because she acted in an unexpected way. Those who attack others expect to be attacked back or fought off in some way. They expect their victim to scream, to fight back, to try to escape. By responding with curiosity and wonder, Gorman put the attacker off-balance.
She did what A Course in Miracles instructs us to do – to replace our fear with love, thereby replacing an attacker’s fear with love, too.
“Fear is a symptom of your own deep sense of loss,” A Course says in Chapter 12. “If when you perceive it in others you learn to supply the loss, the basic cause of fear is removed.”
The basic cause of fear is the feeling that we’ve lost connection to our higher Divine Self – that we’ve lost that internal sense of the eternal, unchanging and unconditional love that created and sustains us. If we can reconnect to that feeling – that knowing that we are innocent, beloved Children of God who are meant to be the light of love in the world no matter what circumstances come upon us – then we can remove all fear from our lives.
“By interpreting fear correctly as a positive affirmation of the underlying belief it masks,” A Course says, “you are undermining its perceived usefulness by rendering it useless. Defenses that do not work at all are automatically discarded.”
This is how Gorman reacted. All the usual defenses – screaming, trying to escape, fighting back, reaching for a gun – were all useless. She interpreted her fear correctly – as something false that would not help her at all in this situation. Instead, she correctly interpreted her intruder’s fear as a call for love. She supplied the loss, and they both made it through the night safely – together.
Making it safely – together
I will not deny that we live in fearful times. Because of political polarization, ongoing class warfare, unstable economic conditions and a general sense that the world is going to hell in a handbasket has all of us feeling kind of jumpy. We’re divided so thoroughly that we can’t even begin to see the loss of love in others, let alone find it within ourselves to supply that love so that our mutual fear can be ended once and for all. In short, we are deathly afraid of each other in this moment in history.
It’s times like these, though, that we have a choice. We either give in to the fear and none of us makes it through these times safely. Or, it’s times like these when we learn to love again, to live again, and rediscover what we’ve never lost – our capacity to bring love to fear whenever we encounter it – either within ourselves or in those around us.
“If you raise what fear conceals to clear-cut unequivocal predominance,” A Course says, “fear becomes meaningless. You have denied its power to conceal love, which was its only purpose. The veil that you have drawn across the face of love has disappeared.”
Are you afraid in this moment? Afraid of what might happen politically in the larger world? Afraid of what might happen to you personally, be in it a relationship, a job, or how a political shakeout in the next few weeks might affect you personally or the country as a whole?
I invite you to “raise what fear conceals to clear-cut unequivocal predominance.” Instead of looking at the world around you in terror, look at it through the eyes of love. Everyone you see as an “enemy” or an “idiot” who votes wrongly, is simply that man at the end of Angie Gorman’s bed. They are lost, feeling alone and unloved with no place to go and the only thing they can think to do is lash out the world around them.
Deny these things the power to conceal your Holy love. The love we have to offer this world – that unfiltered, unconditional, unadulterated love of the Holy – has no opposite and it will always, always, always defeat fear. We have a choice in every moment, we can try to master our fear, or we can learn to become a master of Love. Only one of these choices will heal us all in times like these.
How do you master love? Practice, practice, practice
The one thing that helped Angie Gorman defuse the violence that the intruder intended to inflict upon her was this: practice. Long before this moment, Gorman had dedicated her life to the practice of nonviolence.
She had rehearsed seeing the loss of love in others and instead of responding with her own feeling of lost connection to the Love of her higher Divine Self, she practiced making that connection, no matter who or what she faced.
When the time came to use her skill, she did, and both she and her attacker were freed from their fear. She practiced, what the Christian scriptures in 1 John 4:17-18 this morning calls taking up “permanent residence in a life of love.”
When we do this, this scripture says that, “love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry [because] our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear.”
You’ve heard that passage before as “perfect love casts out fear,” but I like the Message’s phrase of “well-formed love,” because it calls us not just to a belief, but a practice. That practice begins with recognizing why we are fearful in the first place.
When we look around this world, we feel quite justified in both defending ourselves from attack as well attacking. We believe that if we stop defending ourselves, we’ll constantly be attacked or people will use us as a doormat. Nothing could be further than the truth. A Course assures us that defenselessness is the only thing that keeps us safe.
Why? Because the only reason attack exists in this world is because we started it. We picked the fight. We don’t believe that, though. We think the world around us started all of this. We feel attacked, so we attack back. I’m not saying we go out and beat people up, but we attack in our minds. We judge others. We dismiss others. We hate others. We dehumanize and belittle others – all without laying a physical finger on them. This is still attack.
Why do we attack like this? Because we feel separate from each other. We feel separate from each other because we feel separate from God. We feel separate from the unfiltered, unadulterated, unconditional Love that created us. That fear produces the attack within us – and that is what we’re truly afraid of – that our fear and its habit of attack is what’s real about us – not our Love. This is why we are in the mess we’re in – both personally and corporately.
Who are you without your fear?
A Course says the only two emotions we can ever feel is either fear or Love. We’re afraid, though, that if we give up fear for Love we’ll be unable to function in this world – because this world requires that we live in fear. If we’re without fear, what are we? Are we just happy all the time, letting people take advantage of us or walk all over us?
Of course not. Without our fear we become who we truly are – “powerful beyond measure,” as Marianne Williamson puts it in her book A Return to Love. We play small because we believe our fear is more powerful than God’s love. That’s why, Williamson says, it is our light that scares us, not our darkness.
Everyone remains afraid in this world for this one simple reason – we rehearse our fear more than we rehearse our love. We practice perfecting our fear instead of perfecting our love. We do it whenever we watch TV news or engage in debate on Facebook or Twitter. We do it unconsciously, all the time when we judge others or think of our grievances with the world.
Overcoming our fear, then, means changing what we rehearse. In times like these, it’s easy to rehearse our fear. Rehearsing love, though, means remembering who we truly are – innocent, divine, Children of God who are eternally safe, no matter what chaos may seem to be swirling around, or within, us.
“We are all meant to shine,” Williams says, “as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; It’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
This is exactly what Angie Gorman did that night. She didn’t master her fear. She said she still felt afraid the whole night. Instead, she allowed her inner master of love come through and shine its light in that dark bedroom. Most importantly, she gave the intruder permission to do the same. It liberated both of them. That’s what we’re in this world to accomplish – the liberation of us all.
6 steps to releasing fear
So, how do you begin to rehearse love instead of fear, so you can become a master of love? Robert Perry, with the Circle of Atonement, outlines six steps to help us learn how to become a master of love. First, he says, be vigilant for your feelings of fear.
The big ones that overtake us are easy to spot, but what about all the little grievances – all the little forms of attack that just routinely run through our minds and the ego tells us that’s nothing to worry about? Don’t ignore them, A Course says, because all those small worries, fears, and anxieties are what the ego uses to build its identity. We must be aware of every fear thought, no matter how insignificant our ego says they are. Even the smallest fearful thought destroys our ability to love.
Next, he says, acknowledge your fears. Don’t minimize, deny, hide, or avoid them. This, A Course tells us, the first step to dissolving our fearful ego. Thirdly, he says, take responsibility for your fear. We are responsible for our fear because we’ve chosen to experience it. Instead of being afraid of our thoughts, we need to correct them whenever we notice how fearful they are.
We do that in the fourth step by looking calmly at the cause of our fear – and that is our own lack of love. The attack in us is the only reason we feel afraid. That fear, though, is not real. It’s simply another trick of the ego to keep us engaged in its game of seek but do not find and constantly attack and defend.
In step five we get to meat of this practice. In any spiritual practice you need tools and A Course gives us those in the form of its workbook lessons that provide us with the language we need to fulfill the step of choosing truth – or love – instead of fear. This is the step that invites us to remember who we truly are. We are not our small, fearful ego. We are the magnitude of God – the awareness of being itself – the light of the world that is meant to shine Love into the world.
In this step, we practice replacing our fearful thoughts with thoughts of Love. Some phrases Perry recommends include: “Light and joy and peace abide in me. My sinlessness is guaranteed by God,” or “God is the strength in which I trust,” or one of my favorites, “You can afford to laugh at fear thoughts, remembering that God goes with you wherever you go.”
Ones I use frequently are: “In my defenselessness my safety lies,” or “I can choose peace rather than this,” or, “Peace to such foolishness.”
The final step is to ask for help. The ego isn’t going to take you rehearsing love over fear lying down. It will seek to remind you of all the things it believes you should rightfully be fearful of. When fear arises, A Course instructs us to ask the Holy Spirit for help. Chapter 2 gives us a simple prayer: “I pray that my fear be replaced by an active sense of your love.”
The key to this practice of Love though is this: We do not do this practice just for ourselves. We do it for the world. This is what saved Gorman that night – she knew that she had to protect not just herself, but her would-be assailant. If either of them gave in to their fear, they would both be damaged by the experience.
We dedicate our lives to becoming masters of love, not as a way to overcome our own fear – but to end fear once and for all – for everyone. We can do this because all minds are joined, and as we heal our own fear within, there will be less fear in the world. This is not navel gazing; it is world changing.
As we move through this week – and especially the upcoming midterm elections – let us practice becoming masters of love by rehearsing love every chance we get. Let us give love the run of the house so that we can create the well-formed love that is needed to banish fear – not just within ourselves, but in the world around us.
It’s times like these when we have a choice. We can continue to rehearse our fear, or we can learn to love again by constantly rehearsing the love that created and sustains us. Let us seek to become such masters of love that indeed just our mere presence is enough to make the whole world say: “Oh, Yeah.”
An important note about this message:
I do not want this message to misconstrued as one of “blaming the victim.” I realize there are plenty of people who have been assaulted and perhaps tried to talk their way out of it and failed. Not everyone’s experience is like Angie Gorman’s. Fear is ubiquitous in our world and it is overwhelming. In no way am I minimizing the fear that anyone has felt when they feel bodily threatened in this world. Our bodies are programmed from the beginning of our existence in the fight, flight, freeze, or faint reaction, and there is no shame when it happens. It’s quite natural.
What I am hoping to convey is this: We have a responsibility, not just to ourselves, but to the world, to do the hard work of practicing nonviolent love whenever and however we can. We practice not to “overcome” or “conquer” our fear, but to see it for what it is – an evolutionary leftover from our belief in our separation from God and those we perceive around us. As such, we have an opportunity to become masters of love – to hold space for those who still experience the very real fear and horrors that we human beings inflict upon one another.
I recall someone asking Byron Katie, who created a system of questioning our thoughts and beliefs called The Work, if she would counsel a woman who had been recently raped to follow her protocol.
“Oh, no!” she replied. “She would not be ready for it.”
This is the heart of compassion that we are called to be in this world – to use our spiritual practices to become masters of love so we can be that space for others who cannot see through the fear and terror that appears very real in whatever moment they find themselves. Their experiences can be devastating, and the emotions quite overwhelming. A Course tells us in those moments, the “sanest” of the two is responsible for holding the space of love. If we find ourselves in that place where we can touch the Love of the Holy for them in that moment, that is what we are called to do.
May we be willing to be so powerfully used for the healing of the world.
Source for the Gorman story: The Powers That Be, by Walter Wink
Music for the Journey: “Times Like These” by Foo Fighters
Founder of Motley Mystic and the Jubilee! Circle interfaith spiritual community In Columbia, S.C., Candace Chellew (she/her) is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008). Founder and Editor Emeritus of Whosoever, she earned her masters of theological studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, was ordained by Gentle Spirit Christian Church in December 2003, and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. She is also a musician and animal lover.