Yann Martel on fear

Thank you for your responses to my question about fear. Here are the weapons we listed.

  • Scripture
  • Worship
  • Music – creating, playing, or singing it
  • Courage and trust
  • Receiving the perfect love of God
  • Going on, even afraid
  • Confessing it to someone/ Admitting it
  • Hope
  • Curiosity
  • Naming the desire beneath the fear
  • Taking the feelings to Jesus
  • Recalling visual images of faith and progress

After writing that last post In the Shadows, but before sharing it with you, I stumbled on a passage on fear in Life of Pi, a book I am currently reading by Yann Martel. It’s a fascinating novel about being adrift at sea in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger for far too many days. Lots of gross stuff. But it has this great mini-chapter with observations on fear. Listen.

“I must say a word about fear. It is life’s only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unerring ease. It begins in your mind, always…

…Reason comes to do battle for you. You are reassured. Reason is fully equipped with the latest weapons technology. But, to your amazement, despite superior tactics and a number of undeniable victories, reason is laid low. You feel yourself weakening, wavering. Your anxiety becomes dread.

Fear next turns fully to your body, which is already aware that something terribly wrong is going on. Already your lungs have flown away like a bird and your guts have slithered away like a snake… And so with the rest of your body. Every part of you, in the manner most suited to it, falls apart. Only your eyes work well. They always pay proper attention to fear.

…The matter is difficult to put into words. For fear, real fear, such as shakes you to your foundation, such as you feel when you are brought face to face with your mortal end, nestles in your memory like a gangrene: it seeks to rot everything, even the words with which to speak of it. So you must fight hard to express it. You must fight hard to shine the light of words upon it. Because if you don’t, if your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid, perhaps even manage to forget, you open yourself to further attacks of fear because you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you.”

-Yann Martel, Life of Pi

It gave me courage to post the words 🙂 if not to write them.

Fear is a liar. We are going to make it, and all will be well. Promise.

Fighting alongside you.

– Shari

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2 years ago

“What we say aloud can never quite capture what we feel but that is almost the point. Words don’t capture, they release.” -Matt Haig

2 years ago
Reply to  Anonymous

Whoever you are, thank you for posting this! I agree.

2 years ago

How well I know by experience every word in this excerpt! How long fear has been a brutal enemy. I agree with you Shari, it must be one of the worst darknesses. It’s good to see the list of ways fellow soldiers are dealing with it. Fear has to be one of the biggest forces of isolation. Knowing someone is with you in the fight – even though it can’t be fully expressed, as the previous comment so accurately stated – is one of the biggest weapons against it.

2 years ago

I’m here, just happy that someone else has read Life of Pi!! A wise and insightful book, a little strange at times…but a window into the human experience nevertheless. Thanks for sharing.

2 years ago
Reply to  Gina

What she said.

2 years ago

Fear can be so crippling! But it doesn’t have to be. this excerpt from “the life of Pi” is so good, I never read it but my children have and I’ve gotten summaries and discussions from it. One of Our pastors preached a sermon on fear last Sunday that I thot was the most practical and insightful I’ve heard. I’m a bit biased cuz he’s my bro-in-law but so authentic and relevant. I’ll see if I can link it.

2 years ago

Ah, Fear. He stalks us all with his wily ways, whether or not we recognize him for what he is. For many years I didn’t know his name, but once I did, I learned to tell him who he was, and to speak the name of Jesus- out loud- and claim His power over my mind and situation. Fear flees then, because he won’t stay where Jesus has been invited. Will he try to sneak in another way then? Oh yes! But the oftener I turn him away with the Name of Jesus, the less he comes around in the same manner. Speaking from a long journey of trial and error. . . Speak the Name of Jesus, friends! He has ALL power. Thank you Shari, for writing so candidly on a what I think is the devil’s favourite tactic and he doesn’t want brought under the light of Christ. Praying a special prayer for you!

2 years ago

Wow! I needed this post! Fear has been a lifelong companion of mine, one that this year I’m really learning to fight . . . but here I am in November of the year when I resolved to “renounce fear”, and I’m fighting it maybe worse than ever . . . the part about the power of fear being in its wordlessness was fascinating . . . I wonder if putting words to it would really help me?

Oh, by the way (having just read your long ago post on how you feel about comments) I’m going to “be brave” and introduce myself! I’m an author and sporadic blogger, and while I’m afraid I DO fit into your target demographic of Mennonite women between 20 and 50, I’m a first-generation Anabaptist, which I think has to count for SOMETHING! I can’t remember how I first heard about your book (and then, your blog), but I was reminded that I want to read it by a friend who is currently doing so! Maybe I’ll have to borrow her copy when she’s done 😉 Anyway, I was randomly surfing my saved blogs list and I found yours! I enjoy reading blogs about everything and nothing told in an entertaining and thought-provoking way, so I’m sure I’ll be back! (I hope that wasn’t like complimenting you on your writing style? If so – I’m sorry!)

2 years ago

This month, I found “Life of Pi” in my collection of holds at the library, started reading it, and wondered how on earth I had come to request it. And now, coming back to your blog, I know! It was your recommendation! Thank you so much – I enjoyed it very much, and just finished it this past week.

I am a new reader, so I don’t know a lot of your background, or what you’re writing about when you talk about your own fear. But I have read your posts on fear with great interest, because fear is something that was a nearly complete stranger to me until these past two years, during which fear has suddenly blossomed into a consuming nightmare in my life as I watch the political climate grow more and more hostile to both Christianity and to liberty, free speech, etc. It is now my biggest spiritual opponent – something that would have seemed ludicrous to me just a few years ago. So I really appreciate your willingness to talk about fear, and about how to deal with it – thank you.

2 years ago
Reply to  Shari Zook

Thank you for your sweet reply, Shari! I believe you are right, and I’ll keep that in mind. Thanks for writing!!

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