"Do not worry, do not be anxious" are messages found repeatedly in Christian scripture. Say that to me and it's like saying "don't think about elephants"! But I've come to realize the difference between concern and worry.
Concern leads me to constructive action. Worry or anxiety is just the hamster wheel. Round and round I go, exhausting myself emotionally and spiritually, and usually making an annoying squeaking sound as well!
Recently I participated in a weeklong spiritual retreat, where I focused on getting rid of anxiety. It had become a factor in my life that no longer seemed appropriate. I grew up in an anxiety-producing family, and had anxiety-fostering careers. Now retired, I'm involved with some important and meaningful projects, but they aren't really anxiety-producing.
The world is full of difficulty, struggle and tragedy, none of which I can help relieve if I'm full of anxiety. I wanted to shed my old and energy-draining habit.
Twenty years ago I acquired a little voice to help me cope when I felt overwhelmed by events beyond my control. At the time, I was the associate priest at a church service that was getting badly off track while the bishop and senior pastor chatted, ignoring the directions in the service leaflet. As I fumed and fussed, I heard the voice of TV cartoon character Bart Simpson say, "Well don't have a cow, lady!"
Over the years I've heard that voice many times, calling me back from the edge of a melt-down. At the retreat, I wanted to discover a better voice with a more sacred message to calm and guide me.
A spiritual practice instructed me to go into the countryside to find a creature that seemed to facilitate my access to God. I wanted a majestic hawk, an exotic blue-tailed skink, or a lovely butterfly. This creature needed to be worthy of the task of connecting me to the Holy One.
Nothing. The meadow was devoid of life. The steep wooded hillside was occupied only by annoying bugs which did not meet my standards for this sacred quest .
High up the trail I stepped into a clearing and there it was. There was no doubt that this creature was there for me. It was big. It was reddish-brown. It was a cow.
And I heard a little voice that was not Bart Simpson's, saying, "You want to have a cow, have a cow!"
Never doubt that God has a sense of humor!
The message I received from the "Holy Cow" was to stop taking myself so seriously. The baggage of anxiety needs to be checked at the gate. "Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals" is a teaching from Jesus, that says to me "leave your baggage of the past so you can be open to what is happening now."
How to check that baggage? Give forgiveness to others; accept it for myself. Laugh often, especially at myself. Trust the Spirit's guidance. And when life gets tough, let "Holy Cow!" connect me to God's grace.
-- The Rev. Jan Griffin is the Congregational Developer for the Southwest Region of the Episcopal Diocese of Spokane, retired from parish ministry in Richland. Questions and comments should be directed to editor Lucy Luginbill in care of the Tri-City Herald newsroom, 333 W. Canal Drive, Kennewick, WA 99336. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org.