The Bible represents snakes as the symbol for evil and the symbol for healing. Today, a caduceus, the winged staff with entwined snakes, is the universal medical symbol. Snakes are symbols of those things that have the power both to heal and kill, the symbol of that which can take life or restore it.
Ironically, that often is true of our fears. They have the power to destroy us, but they also might have the power to deliver us. People were so afraid of Jesus that they nailed him to a pole, but what he came to do was bring life.
Throughout history, many people regarded as heroes were simply women or men who forced themselves to do the very things they were afraid of:
- Those who made the Underground Railroad possible, and those who dared to risk their lives for freedom, knew great fear but harnessed that energy to do what was needed.
- Those who flew those first fragile planes in World War I must have been afraid, but imagine the fear in the heart of the farmers forced to jump from those planes in World War II. But they did it to defeat tyranny.
- The women who first defied their husbands to march for the right to vote surely were afraid to challenge everything they had been taught about their role in society.
Every Sunday for the past six years, on my way to this sacred desk at Virginia-Highland Church, I deliberately have taken the route that passes by the graves of Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King to remind me that it takes courage to speak prophetic truth, rather than just pleasant pastoral platitudes.
Abraham Lincoln struggled so badly with depression that there was a time when his friends could not leave him alone. They removed all sharp objects from his house lest he harm himself. On one occasion, Lincoln wrote to his friend John Stuart:
I am the most miserable man living. If what I am now feeling were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth. Whether I shall ever be better I cannot tell. I fear I shall not.
Although he struggled his entire life against depression, Lincoln did get better. In fact, his struggle gave him such great compassion that, at the end of the most violent and deadly war in American history, he was able to write with integrity those famous words, “With malice toward none, with charity for all.” The depression that he feared also shaped him into such a strong, tender leader that some historians have suggested that, if Lincoln had lived to lead us compassionately toward reconciliation, a century of racial hatred and bitter segregation might have been avoided.
What greatness might be in you if you could defy or embrace your fears?
Rev. Michael Piazza