Many of us choose resolutions to mark the beginning of a new year. Those resolutions might be taking up a discipline or resolving to accomplish something new and challenging.
Alongside a resolution, some choose a word or a mantra to cling to in the new year. I have chosen the latter - to carry a mantra with me into 2024. My hope is that these words will shape my outlook and form a conviction in me that keeps me moving forward.
My mantra for this year is, “be not afraid.” I chose these words during the Advent season when many of the liturgical readings included the angel encounters from the Christmas story. When angels appear in the scripture their salutation is often, “be not afraid.”
In the Advent stories, angels appear to Zechariah, Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds. “Be not afraid, Zechariah.” “Be not afraid, Mary.” “Be not afraid, Joseph.” “Be not afraid, you lowly shepherds.”
As I mark time in this new year of 2024 and I open my journal to begin to write, I start with the words, “be not afraid.” These words are written as a prayer that God will give me whatever it is that I need to live courageously.
Admittedly, when first reading these words in scripture they suggest a vision of Mary or Joseph covering their eyes in fear, or shepherds cowering to the ground petrified of the loud voice and bright light. Perhaps the angel’s declaration of “be not afraid” holds more than that. Maybe it isn’t meant to be a calming of the fears from the actual angelic encounter, but more of an invitation.
When the angels spoke to Zechariah, Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds, they were inviting them into something. They were extending an invitation into courageous living – an invitation to see the holy work of God and to join in that work with God. Scott Erickson in his book, Holy Advent, describes the angel’s declaration as an invitation “to consider every situation no matter how despairing, as something we don’t have to walk through alone, but as the birthplace for divine participation.”
Being unafraid doesn’t always mean we won’t be fearful. Instead, it means that we are able to keep moving when we are afraid because we are held by Divine presence. Courage means speaking when we are afraid, or putting one foot in front of the other when we are weak and grief-stricken. It’s knowing that God understands our fear and gives us power through that fear.
I love these words by Arthur Riley – “a quivering voice is still sacred.”
In this new year, I think the takeaway for me is that there is much to fear, but I won’t let fear silence me. I won’t let fear stop me from praying, acting, and proclaiming. I won’t let fear stop me from fulfilling my dreams and goals. I won’t let fear hinder the flow of God’s divine love in me.
My voice may “quiver,” and my hands may tremble, but I believe that God holds me in those moments. And I believe that God continues to send holy messengers into our world to invite us into holy living. “Be not afraid.”
Prayer by Arthur Riley
I will not be silenced by fear.
A quivering voice is still sacred.
God, my soul trembles.
Steady me in your arms.
I will meet this fear with rest.
God, steady me in your arms.