Do Not Be Afraid–But Be as Wise as a Serpent | Anita Mathias: Dreaming Beneath the Spires
Welcome to the fourth episode of Christian Meditation with Anita Mathias.
Let’s breathe. For a few minutes, give ourselves the gift of restfulness. We’ll detach from “to do lists”, and re-enter the body, which, Scripture tells us, is the temple of the Holy Spirit within us.
When our minds are stressed, distracted or scattered, we can train ourselves to use breath prayers, short heart-felt prayers to repeat as we calm our minds, hearts, and spirits.
Here’s a breath prayer, in simple Latin, because it has a lovely rhythm. Veni Sante Spiritus. Come, Holy Spirit.
Being filled with God’s spirit is one of our deepest needs and greatest experiences as human beings. It’s God’s wisdom to help us when we are baffled, to still us when we stressed. In the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah called the Holy Spirit the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and fthe ear of the Lord. We need this power source, this electricity to do good work which lasts.
Let’s breathe and invite God’s spirit to descend on us. Veni Sancte Spiritus. Come Holy Spirit. It’s part of a lovely Taize chant you can listen to on Youtube, which goes like Veni Sancte Spiritus. Come, Holy Spirit.
Today’s meditation is on not being afraid, but rather, acting with wisdom.
Do not be afraid, the angel in the dream
tells Joseph: Marry your fiancée, Mary,
who is showing, despite your chaste restraint,
for in our magical world, in which angels
speak to humans, a virgin has conceived
by the Spirit of God, as long foretold, by the prophet Isaiah,
and the child shall be called Jesus, which means The Lord Saves,
and he shall save people from the power of sin.
And Joseph is not afraid and marries Mary.
And the angel’s words are soon confirmed
For a star appeared in the East,
And the astrologers who saw it, followed it to Jerusalem,
Searching for one they knew was born
the King of the Jews (terrifying jealous King Herod!).
And when the star stopped, they worshipped the child
With precious gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
But then, the prophetic dream-angel,
Appeared with a different message:
Flee to Egypt, and stay there “until I tell you to leave,”
For King Herod plans to kill
The child who is to be a forever-King.
What? The dream angel who exhorted, “Do not be afraid?”
Now says, “Escape to Egypt.”
Escape to Egypt? Leave my business, extended family,
Friends, my language? Live among strangers? Become a refugee?
But, oh dream-angel, wasn’t it you who said, “Do not be afraid?”
But the spirit is like the wind, the child Jesus later said.
It sometimes blows new guidance, new directions.
(And, indeed, Herod would soon slaughter every male infant and toddler in Bethlehem.)
God’s Spirit within us teaches us
The difference between acting out of fear
And acting with wisdom.
Scripture repeatedly commands us not to be afraid,
For most things we fear will never happen,
And when trouble comes: They are there–
God our loving Father, Christ our friend,
and the Holy Spirit whom Jesus calls
The Helper, Counsellor, and Comforter.
Fear wastes time, energy and life–
Fear of being judged leads to over-cooking and over-cleaning-up for guests.
Fear of judgement leads overwhelmed you to signing up to all those rotas
While neglecting your own home, family, gifts and calling.
Fear might lead to foolish worrying about your bank balance,
When you know the Lord Jesus Christ who added three zeros
When he multiplied the five loaves.
What then is the wisdom Jesus recommends?
We go out as sheep among wolves, Christ tells us.
And, he adds, dangerously, some wolves are dressed like sheep.
They seem respectable—busy charity volunteers, Church people.
Oh, the noblest sentiments in the noblest words,
But they drain you of money, energy, time, your lifeblood.
How then could a sheep, the most defenceless creature on earth,
Possibly be safe, among wolves,
Particularly wolves disguised in sheep’s clothing?
A sheep among wolves can be safe
if it keeps its eyes on its Shepherd, and listens to him.
Check in with your instincts, and pay attention to them,
for they can be God’s Spirit within you, warning you.
We have too the wisdom of The Good Book.
And, as Jesus cautions, assess people before you trust them,
Not by their words, but by the fruit of their lives
Which says more than words can.
Do things add up? Any red flags?
And Jesus has another memorable piece of advice
For his disciples, those sheep among wolves.
Be as wise, as phronimos as a serpent. The koine Greek word
Phronimos means shrewd, sensible, cautious, prudent.
These traits don’t come naturally to me.
But if Christ commands that we be as wise,
shrewd, sensible, cautious and prudent as a serpent,
His Spirit will empower us to be so.
A serpent is a carnivorous reptile,
But animals, birds and frogs are not easily caught.
So, the snake wastes no energy in bluster or self-promotion.
It does not boast of its plans; it does not show-off.
It is a creature of singular purpose, deliberate and slow-moving
For much of its life, it rests, camouflaged,
soaking in the sun, waiting and planning.
It’s patient, almost invisible, until the time is right
And then, it acts swiftly and decisively.
The wisdom of the snake then is in waiting
For the right time. It conserves energy,
Is warmed by the sun, watches, assesses,
and when the time is right, it moves swiftly
And very effectively.
But what of “two-faced snakes”
Who smile and smile and yet are villains?
Who wait till their Caesar-enemy is down,
Before they strike. God does not bless such lives.
Those who take the sword, perish by the sword, Jesus says,
Unless they repent, and a merciful God forgives.
However, as always, Jesus balances his advice:
Be as wise as a serpent, yes, but also as blameless
akeraios as a dove. As pure, as guileless, as good.
Be wise, but not only to provide for yourself and family
But, also, to fulfil your calling in the world,
The one task God has given you, and no one else
Which you alone, and no one else, can do,
And which God will increasingly reveal to you,
as you wait and ask.
Today’s meditation was from Matthew Chapter 2.
If you’d like to read my previous recorded meditations,
3 The Whole Earth is Full of God’s Glory
2 The World is full of the Glory of God
1 Mindfulness is Remembering the Presence of Christ with us.
And, of course, I would love you to read my memoir, fruit of much “blood, sweat, toil and tears.”
Rosaries, Reading, Secrets: A Catholic Childhood in India in the UK, and in the US, here, well, and widely available, online, worldwide 🙂