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Fearing God and Ferrets

Sitting on the banks of the Minnehaha Creek with my feet in the water, escaping the city within the city, a flash of movement along the opposite bank caught my eye. A ferret was running along the bank, not five yards from me, and then dove into the water.

A ferret? Dow we have wild ferrets in Minnesota? Had my eyes deceived me? It must’ve been a muskrat, to have gone underwater like that. But I knew what I had seen. Its long skinny body and arching back were unmistakable. How far could ferrets swim underwater?

Suddenly, I felt a surge of fear. What if it resurfaced by my feet and bit me? Aren’t ferrets feisty and mean? Do they carry diseases? Perhaps it was someone’s escaped pet turned wild and would want to crawl on me. I waited in fearful excitement, holding my breath to see what it would do. And then there it was, springing out of the water with a mouthful of mud and weeds. Running off down the bank it dropped its treasure and began patting it with its little hands, building a nest or den. A feeling of awe overtook me. I realized I know nothing about ferrets and I was overwhelmed by its “otherness” and intrigued by its mysterious life.

Maybe this is what the Scriptures mean when they say to “Fear God.” I’ve never liked that phrase. Why should I fear someone who loves me, who created all this beauty, who has my best interest at heart?

Growing up in a shame-based family system and religion gave me my fair share of fear. I was afraid of my father, my pastor, and at some deep level that I never admitted until much later, I was also afraid of God. God, who was distant and detached, judgemental and punishing. As a youth, fearing God meant always being on my best behavior because “he’s gonna find out who’s naughty and nice.” The consequence for naughtiness was eternal damnation. Terrifying indeed! Over time, after healing this destructive image and understanding of God, I dropped the idea altogether because it triggered old wounds.

But sitting on the banks of the Minnehaha, watching this ferret run back and forth, I felt a Holy fear. It was excitement, awe, mystery, respect, love. So too, large animals evoke these feelings in us naturally. If you’ve ever stood next to a horse, you know what I mean. They put you in your humble place, your pulse may quicken, but it’s out of the ecstatic joy and privilege of touching the beautiful other. Elephants, whales, bears, hippos, moose; they all stir in us a wild excitement. We slow down and hold our breath when they are near. What will they do next? Much of our fear is that they will run away and leave us, giving only a fleeting glimpse into their world, leaving us alone with ourselves. And so it is with God.

Animals show us that fearing God is quite natural and healthy. It is a wonder, a joy, and an overwhelming gratitude to have witnessed such untamed beauty this close up, right here in our hearts.

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And in contrast to the idea of fear, a poem about pure Love, because as a Lutheran, I can’t help but embrace paradox:

Amidst the confusion

I search for You.

Amidst death and dying and fear

I cry out to you

Amidst surprising joys

I sing to you

Amidst desert places

I drink from you.

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Amidst the confusion

You search for me

Amidst death and dying and fear

You cry out to me

Amidst surprising joys

You sing to me

Amidst desert places

You drink from me

How can my mind fathom Your love??

Instead, I’ll let my heart smile

Knowing it is Your heart

Instead I’ll let my soul dance

Knowing it already holds the answers

Instead, I’ll let my belly laugh

Knowing it is safe

To be me.

By Chelsea Forbrook, October 2015

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