Thursday, April 22, 2004

Today's blog is brought to us courtesy of Stephen Pressfield's Gates of Fire, which you should all read because it makes real a great truth. The scene is the pass of Thermopylai. The characters are the Spartans Dienekes, Ariston, and Alexandros. I have abridged as unobtrusively as possible, but the following is abridged:

"All my life," Dienekes began, "one question has haunted me. What is the opposite of fear? To call it aphobia, fearlessness, is without meaning. This is just a name, thesis expressed as antithesis. To call the opposite of fear fearlessness is to say nothing. I want to know its true obverse, as day of night and heaven of earth."

"Expressed as a positive," Ariston ventured.

"Exactly!" Dienekes met the young man's eyes in approval.

"Dogs in a pack find courage to take on a lion. Each hound knows his place. He fears the dog ranked above and feeds off the fear of the dog below. Fear conquers fear. This is how we Spartans do it, counterpoising to fear of death a greater fear: that of dishonor. Of exclusion from the pack."

Dienekes smiled darkly. "But is that courage? Is not acting out of fear of dishonor still, in essence, acting out of fear?"

Alexandros asked what he was seeking.

"Something nobler. A higher form of the mystery. Pure. Infallible."

Ariston asked if this higher courage in fact existed.

"It is no phantom," Dienekes declared with conviction. "I have seen it. Do you know who owns it, this pure form of courage, more than any other I have known? My wife." He turned to Alexandros. "And your mother, the lady Paraleia." He smiled again. "There is a clue here. The seat of this higher valor, I suspect, lies in that which is female."

His glance took in the fires of the camp, the nations of the allies clustered in their units, and their officers, whom we could see, like us approaching from all quarters the king's fire, ready to respond to his needs and receive his instructions.

"The opposite of fear," Dienekes said, "is love."

The opposite of fear is love. Warrior's wisdom, the psychologists tell us, which fighting men have known from time immemorial. Put it in a Christian context. "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (2 Tim. 1:7). Now this spirit which God has given us, is it not his own spirit - the spirit which is in us, which is stronger than the spirit which is in the world? The spirit of God - the spirit of love himself - is given to us, not the spirit of fear. The opposite of fear is love.

Take another passage from Gates of Fire. The scene is Athens, the characters Dienekes' squire Xeo, on his way to Thermopylai, and his cousin Diomache, whom once he loved:

"Let neither of us pity the other," my cousin spoke in parting. "We are where we must be, and we will do what we must."

Sometimes I ask myself, about breaking up with Selene, are you not afraid? Afraid of what (or who) she will find in Chicago, and afraid of what (or who) you will not find at Stanford? And while I acknowledge that those are scary things, I am not afraid. It is not the kind of fearlessness that comes from knowing who I am and what I must do - not the kind of fearlessness that comes from seeing God through Alanna and Keladry and Honor and Cimorene, and hearing the bronze-voiced divine command calling me onward. For now, at least, it is a different kind of fearlessness.

The opposite of fear is love. And that's all I have to say about that.

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