The covid-19 pandemic and the lifestyle changes and restrictions associated with it deeply impact us, our plans, freedom and alter our lives on every level. Suddenly, we realize that there is a form of pain that is universal, affecting everyone. We are reminded just how fragile life is and how vulnerable our bodies are. There is another type of pandemic, one that affects our minds, one that imprisons and holds captive countless human lives, hopes and dreams, one that has the power to even disrupt our communion and relationship with God.
Anxiety is an important topic that the Holy Bible repeatedly reflects on and warns us about. “Cast all your anxiety on him” (1 Peter 5:7), we read in today’s scripture reading from St. Peter’s epistle. “Do not be anxious about anything (Phil. 4:6),” writes St. Paul. It was also an integral part of our Lord’s teaching when he was exhorting us, saying “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life” (Matt. 6:25). In its depiction of anxiety and anxious mind, the message of the Bible is clear and straightforward, its tone is harsh and commanding. It is important to note that the Bible does not merely encourage and advise us against anxiety. Rather, it elevates the message to the level of a commandment, “Do not be anxious about anything”, “Do not be anxious about your life” – are not suggestions, but commandments.
How do we understand and define anxiety within faith and church tradition? Despite many similarities, anxiety is not a mere worry and fear. Instead, we understand anxiety as a form of fear and worry that lacks an object, real cause and reason. Anxiety is when I worry about what will happen to me if the world ends, if I lose my job, when we worry that the covid-19 pandemic might never go away, anxiety is when we worry about what will happen if we get cancer diagnosis despite not having any symptoms. It is really a free-floating disease, a condition that can be activated by an insecurity we have towards the future. From the perspective of faith and church teaching anxiety is a dangerous fantasy that exposes our lack of trust towards God and His unconditional love and care for us.
But then what do we do with our anxieties? What do I do and how should I act when I feel anxious next time? In today’s reading St. Peter has a specific recommendation on how to handle and deal with anxiety: “Cast all your anxiety on him” he says. It is as if anxiety is a toxic spiritual waste that we should not even try to deal with but instead immediately pass, cast it on God. St. Peter’s choice of the Greek verb for ‘cast’ is fascinating, it means “to propel something from one place to another, throw.” The specific verb was used in the New Testament only once before, in the story of Palm Sunday, where we read that the apostles cast their garments on the donkey before Jesus sat on it and entered Jerusalem. This animal is nothing but an ancient symbol of service, humility, dedication and peace. And in the same fashion, we are encouraged to cast all anxieties of our minds and souls on Christ, the immortal lamb of God, who through his incarnation stepped into our fragile human nature, felt and shared our fears, worries and pain. So often we subconsciously nurse and feed our fears and anxieties, sometimes we welcome them instead of rejecting, repelling and casting them on Christ. We do say by a prayerful reflection on the second half of St. Peter’s passage: “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.” Christ is with us, Christ is taking care of us, our anxieties belong to him. He only can liberate us from claws of anxiety, fill us with his heavenly peace and make us whole and free again.
“Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7