By Father David Fisher

picture of father fisher

John writes that “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear”.

  • Absence of fear can be a reflection of innocence; of not knowing about potential risks or dangers.
  • Being fearless can also mean being foolish, willing to take unnecessary risks.
  • Too much fear can reduce those gripped by it into immobility.

So what fear does perfect love cast out?

For a partial answer I turned to Mary Ruffle, a contemporary American poet and essayist. (I recommend her thoughtful essay, “On Fear” in Poetry June, 2012)

Ruffle asks Tony Hoagland (another poet) what he thought about fear. Hoagland said that fear was the ghost of an experience: we fear the recurrence of a pain we once felt, and in this way fear is like a hangover. The memory of our pain is a pain unto itself, and thus feeds our fear like a foyer with mirrors on both sides, and he quotes Auden - “And ghosts must do again/What gives them pain.”

  • Perfect love may exorcise these ghosts.

She asks a pilot and a surgeon about fear. The pilot says “The only way to overcome fear is to do what you are trained to do. Fear is overcome by procedure.” The doctor echoes this idea. “For example, if I don’t successfully insert an emergency trach—a hole in the throat—someone will die from lack of oxygen. So I mechanically do what I have been trained to do.”

  • Training for emergencies can mask fear for professionals in emergencies.

And then she quotes this line from Wordsworth’s Prelude - “Fair seed time had my soul, and I grew up/ Fostered alike by beauty and by fear.” Wordsworth seems to suggest a necessary role for fear, balanced by experiences of beauty, in becoming human.

  • Perfect love is the power that opens eyes and hearts to beauty even when (especially when!) it is obscured by violence, hatred and fear.