When we get to the part of the Mass where the priest says, Andfree us from all anxieties, I am sometimes distracted enough from my own anxieties to think He must be talking about someone else; all of my anxieties are useful.Well maybe not every single one. But I have trouble telling the useful anxieties from the useless ones. The good anxieties that affect my appetite, sleep, and personal relationships look almost the same as the bad ones. Perhaps if God could save me from the useless ones, I would feel better, get more sleep, and become an improved Christian. But then a terrible thought enters my head.What if God has already saved me from all useless anxieties and the ones that are left are just the useful ones? What if this is as good as it gets?There are two things that I know about anxiety.First, having anxieties (and lots of them) is what responsible people do in a modern society. Only drunks and junkies have no anxieties, at least while they are actually stoned, which is one of the reasons why alcoholism and drug addiction are said to be bad things. The second thing that I know about anxiety is that the things I am anxious about are both real and reasonable. If I were to be laid off; get prostate cancer; go blind; if Israel decides to nuke Iran; if my boss hates my Power Point presentation and yells at me; if the wrong person wins the next election; if I dont have enough wine for the dinner party; if Israel decides not to nuke Iran; if my boss likes my Power Point and decides to give me more work; if my rotten plumbing system breaks down (personal or domestic); if my seven-year-old turns to drugs and promiscuity once she gets into college any and all of these things would be terrible. And the odds are that at least some of them can happen. It follows that all the hours I watch the ceiling fan in my bedroom turning around and around in the dark while lying next to my sleepless wife is not time wasted.Still, scientists suggest that the frontal cortex of the human brain that makes us so rational and smart is, in effect, built upon another more primitive brain that some call the lizard brain. The lizard brain is the brain that automatically reacts before the big brain has time to think. Whether you are afraid of spiders or not, it is the lizard brain that makes you jump up and say St! when you see the big hairy spider drop out of the ceiling and land on the back of your hand. The lizard brain is what dilates your pupils, raises your blood pressure, and prepares you to do battle, all in the space of one-half of one second.Then your big brain kicks in and takes over, which is why some people will then pause and identify the species of the spider and make a learned comment on their relative rareness at these higher latitudes while other people (like me) will run around screaming like a little girl.The lizard brain, then, aint very bright. But it is much faster than your big brain, which is why it has helped us survive as a species through epochs of stomping mastodons and sticking gas pedals.It is also the lizard brain that makes some bad news about the direction of interest rates make your heart race like a grizzly bear just walked into your kitchen. But how is this so?Your stupid lizard brain has a working vocabulary of three words, which are Danger, Danger, Danger. The lizard brains knows and understands nothing about 401Ks and your kids future ACT scores. So why do we suffer all of this anxiety? Why are we always ready to fight the bear?We experience this anxiety because one of the great God-given wonders of the big brain is that it can transform the roof that I dont think I will be able to afford to have replaced next year into a snarling 12-foot-tall carnivore.Now when I talk about this sort of thing with my wife, by way of pointing out that all of her anxieties are imaginary, she responds that in fact it is commonly known that one can be consumed by mortgage payments and that the simple truth is that we have more grizzly bears living in our woods than our ancestors did.I have to admit (though not necessarily at that moment) that she has a valid point. The things that make us anxious all of the time are not imaginary.But I think that while the source of the anxiety is a real enough thing, the bear one makes it into is a fantasy.Yes, there sometimes really is a bear in the house and if that sound you hear in the kitchen is a real grizzly bear munching on your pet dog, by all means experience some useful anxiety. But what I think the prayer is saying is that if we have faith in God, we will stop worrying about all of the bears that arent really thereyet. Because we know that we have, in fact, been endowed with all of the resources we will need when we come up against those real bears in our path from time to time.And as for those other bears off in the distance, those are Gods problem.

unagidon is the pen name of a former dotCommonweal blogger.  

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