Holy Fear

Not every religious encounter is an experience of unbridled joy, tenderness, and a warm embrace. Some are—and they can be wonderful!—but that’s far from the only type. Quite often, accounts of religious experiences involve some kind of terror or holy fear at the presence of a God, and I’ve had my own share of such experiences.

This post is an attempt to make some degree of sense of my own experiences in devotion over the years, by distinguishing three different types of holy fear that can occur in devotional or theophanic encounters. It’s not meant to be exhaustive: neither in describing these three categories in their entirety, nor in (necessarily) getting at all the possible categories that might be out there.

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Inseparable Sisters

Sorrow, tragedy.
Depth of rage and anguish.
Tears flow, hearts break.
Sky darkens, hopes fade.
The folly of pride, revealed at the last:
The foolish and the luckless brought low
Before Gods and mortals.
Bitter cleansing. Katharsis.

Yet that is not all.
That is not the only story
Told together,
On one stage.

Joy, comedy.
Sky brightens, Dawn’s fingers
Bring day where once was night.
Tears flow once more,
But now of levity,
Mirth too much to contain.
The lost restored, hope triumphs:
Lightness and blessing. Success.

The bitter with the sweet,
The fullness, from high to low,
Seen together,
On one stage.

While in the wings,
Bless’d sisters watch,
Hand in hand, side by side.

For Thalia and Melpomene, of course.

A reminder

One quiet evening, taking things
Perhaps too easy on myself.
Here at my patrons’ shrine,
A reminder, a holy prompting:

“Look! See what is possible!
Will you go deeper, strive
For more, reach the heights?
Now, tonight, do the work!”

Praise, thanks for this call.
May I never grow complacent.

Some say hymns must be solemn

Some say hymns must be
Solemn, sombre. No. Not always.
As I start to sing,
Hymning you here at evening,
Song shifts, suddenly, gives way
To brilliant peals of laughter.
Brimming, bursting with the blessing
Of your holy, honeyed presence.
Wordless, yet far from silent,
I hymn you with laughter.