General Musings

tentative faith

A few years ago, when my Generalized Anxiety Disorder first became A Thing, one of my few defenses against a panic attack was, of all things, the Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear.

I’m not a Dune fan. Like most of the epic fantasy/SciFi novels of yesteryear, I feel it lacks a great deal in relatable characters, respect for women, plot and pacing. Not necessarily in that order.

But I like the Litany Against Fear, not least because of the power of this interpretation from the ever marvelous Zen Pencils. I did and do resonate with the words of the Litany to a certain extent.

“Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.”

I’ve always prided myself on my ability to think. I’m not one of those people who is always quick on her feet and can debate a point at the drop of a hat, but when given time and space to mull things over, I tend to arrive at conclusions I have no trouble defending because I’ve thought over every angle I’m able to conceive of. (My friends with quirky minds who arrive at places I’ve never considered and make points that have never occurred to me probably think I’m hopelessly slow, but that’s beside the point.)

Anyhow. I’ve lived in my mind for the whole of my life and was rather smug in my pre-crippling-anxiety days about my ability to process with logic rather than emotion and with facts rather than feelings.

But fear is the mind-killer.

That’s true. I hate it. But it’s true.

Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.

I’ve been obliterated. A lot. It sucks. A lot.

I have raged against this more times than I can count, for all the good it does me. I have cried out that my mind has always been a place of order and reason and it’s really just not comprehensible that I have zero control over the primitive fear side now, no matter how logical I am still capable of being.

This solves nothing.

I’ve tried to embrace the rest of the Litany Against Fear. Tried to face fear and to permit it to pass over me and through me. I think the implicit lie is that fear can’t really touch you if you have this acceptance of fear passing over you mixed with a rejection of the fear even as it’s passing through you. Like you should be able to endure fear without it leaving any lasting marks. Or maybe there is a perfect mix and I haven’t mastered it.

Fear does touch me as it washes over and through me. As much as I’d like to be so, I am not immune.

And so I’ve started holding to a different creed. One that relies less on my own strength of mind and will.

Spirit, lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters wherever you would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my Savior

The most difficult but also probably the most beautiful thing about this to me is that it’s a choice and an invitation. Not from a loving God to me but from me to a loving God.

Letting fear pass over and through me is like being pummeled by waves and hoping I can somehow weather it. Allowing God to have control over the situation and having faith that he really does have control of the situation is walking on the motherfucking water.

I said I’m a sinker and that’s true. Left to my own devices.

I think that’s pride. I think that’s self-reliance, and I’ve been humbled over and over with how weak and not in control I really am, so to that end, let me drown! Let me sink until all my struggle is gone out of me and all that’s left to me is the hope of salvation.

It’s not comfortable imagery. Not peaceful. But it takes one giant leap outside my self and my unwarranted pride and that’s probably going to be the thing that salvages anything worthwhile I might have within me to offer to the world.

Not me. Not my mind. Not my logic. Just my hope and faith. Just my tentative faith as I try to keep my eyes above the waves.

6 replies on “tentative faith”


This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing your heart. I've only heard that song once or twice, but reading the lyrics here really struck me. To me that plea is both terrifying and comforting at once. I spend a lot of time trying to blissfully ignore my fears, so to confront them so directly and acknowledge that I CANNOT handle them is a huge step outside my comfort zone. But the relief when I finally admit my struggles and give them over to God is incredible. I'm not OK. And that's OK.

Terrifying and comforting? Oh yeah. That’s a perfect way to put it!

I do rather wish I were even capable anymore of ignoring my fears, or pretending that I could! On the other hand, having to confront them and then to give them up (the second part of which sounds much easier than it actually is, for some reason!), does bring about a greater and more true peace, so there is most definitely that.

I do love how you concluded! I’m not OK. And that’s OK. It is! I mean, being OK is great, but at least we have a place of safety in our not OK moments. That’s astounding, when I sit and really think about it, especially given how much time I spend being not OK. 😛

“Like you should be able to endure fear without it leaving any lasting marks. ”

I had always interpreted the Litany to mean that fear was a kind of crucible, and one thing that crucibles are known for doing is changing the things that go into them.

“And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

These things are of course always colored by the listener, to borrow a concept from Donaldson’s Giants.

Of course, my favorite Dune mantra goes differently.

“It is by coffee alone I set my mind in motion.
It is by the beans of Java that thoughts acquire speed,
the hands acquire shaking,
the shakes become a warning.

It is by coffee alone I set my mind in motion.”

I think I worded my thing poorly. Maybe. I don’t know. When I was writing about the lie being that fear won’t leave any lasting marks, I was thinking mainly about the bit that “Only I will remain.” I remain, sure enough, but I do not recognize myself as being anywhere near the same person. Like you said, I’ve been through a crucible. And “Only I will will remain,” should probably read something more like, “Only I will remain, but as some different version of myself, probably broken and maybe a bit repaired, but there are a lot of cracks!” I guess I always thought the Litany spoke more about a passive resistance to fear, like a mindset could make it less powerful.

I don’t know if I am making any sense. Probably not. I may have to take another run at this some other time.

I do like your interpretation of the Litany, though! I do quite agree with you, but yeah. I think it could have been a bit more explicit that a person won’t go untouched by allowing fear to pass over and through them.

And dude? Dude! Coffee = yes. Forget will, forget sapho juice. All hail the beans of Java! Especially when freshly roasted. Amen and amen.

Oh, you make perfect sense. What is hard to accept is that you are the sum total of all of your experiences. That includes your fears, and the effects thereof. Things that leave no mark, make no difference, are essentially not real. So we learn from our fears, and grow a little.

I forget what sci-fi story I read it in, but the quote I am thinking of is, “that which does not grow is not truly alive.”

I am the fail. I responded to you in my head, I swear!

I do like what you say about my (and we all) being the sum total of my (our) experiences and I do agree with it. I just kind of want to go back to being the person that I was before I cracked. Before I became who I am today. It’s not that I don’t see value in who I’ve become, because I totally do. Sometimes – and not always! – I wish myself an easier road to get there. If I am being honest, I do value the process a lot of the time, even though the process suuuucks.

And I think there’s this warped part of me, leftover from my childhood, that whispers in my ear that my anxiety disorder is God’s punishment for… who knows what? To be clear, I do reject that on every conscious level, but there’s that unconscious part of me that falls right into that trap with surprising ease.

I am certain at this point that I am not making any effing sense, but when did I ever?

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