Benny is one of our neighbors who lives just up the block from us here in Harlem. From time to time we see him on the street, often carrying a cup of store-bought coffee. He often has an insight or reflection to share, which he does in his own lyrical Harlem-way. He speaks like he’s singing-rythmic and poetic. His thoughts are random-sometimes bizarre, sometimes angry, sometimes spiritual, always real. Last Thursday he stopped in to our friary where we serve lunch for our neighbors. As the meal was coming to a close and the brothers were washing the dishes, Benny was just speaking. “ Fear and God don’t occupy the same space” he said, real matter of fact. Eyes were raised from the sinks as we looked up at one another. Christ had spoken. Having lived with the poor for over 15 years, I have heard His voice many times through simple conversation such as this. This was one of those moments. A word from God. A word for me, and I believe, a word for you.
“Fear and God don’t occupy the same space.” For those of you who are discerning, this is Benny’s word for you through me. So often fear threatens men who are discerning, drowning out the quiet voice of the Lord with insistent shouts, “What if…?”, “I’m not…”, “I can’t…”, “What about…?”. Such over-questioning leads to a “paralysis of analysis”. Fear-based questions overwhelm and make it difficult to move forward. Of course, we must be real with ourselves and with our deepest questions and fears, particularly bringing them to prayer and to a wise spiritual director, but at a certain point we need to move forward, trusting that the step that is being asked of me is all I need to concentrate on for now.
When Jesus walked past Peter and Andrew as they were fishing, he simply said, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Mk 1:16-18). He didn’t lay out a 10 year plan or the benefits of being associated with Him, nor the cost! He simply said, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Were they afraid? Confused? Unsure? Probably. But they followed Him because somehow they trusted more in Him than in their own fears and questions. You see, Benny is a Harlem prophet-“Fear and God don’t occupy the same space.” So if your fears are stopping you from doing what the Lord wants, ask for the grace to move through them and then take a step. “Fear is useless. What is needed is trust” (Mk 5:36). Following Jesus is all about taking steps. He leads. We follow.
Fr Emmanuel Mary CFR