Megan McKenna is an internationally known author, lecturer, retreat leader, and spiritual director. She is one of our Living Spiritual Teachers and the author of more than 30 books. This book has a timeliness to it that is uncanny. McKenna writes about waking at four o'clock in the morning with a sense of distress, uneasiness, and anxiety. It is the time of the tiger when we confront the fears that have been eating away at us all day and every day. She uses the image of the tiger to help us come to grips with the mystery of the human adventure where the future is unknown and we don’t know what to expect.
In successive chapters, McKenna probes some of the major fears that assault us: facing death; the scourges of violence, terrorism, and war; suffering, pain and disease; the fear of isolation, loneliness, and despair; the fears associated with money, possessions, insecurity; fear of the Other or the Stranger; fear of the Earth, the weather, and the universe; and fear of God and fear of mystery.
McKenna sees Jesus as a tiger who models courage and openness for us. She points out that one of the most oft-repeated phrases in the Scripture is "Do not be afraid." Jesus shows us how to face our fears, to take risks, and to be peacemakers in a world in turmoil. The tiger of fear is present when we encounter death or are forced to deal with our own physical suffering and deterioration. It gnaws away at us when we worry about our safety and the possibility of a terrorist attack. It comes at us in the uncertainty we feel about our future.
McKenna, as usual, has a diverse group of teaching stories that provide spice and tang to the text. Here is an example:
"There is a story told of a pianist, Walter Nowick, who was playing Beethoven's piano Sonata no.32, a composition noted for its difficulty. It was night and all of a sudden, in the middle of the performance, the power went out and the entire auditorium was plunged into darkness. Nowick played through to the end. Afterwards everyone wanted to know how he had managed to continue playing when he didn't have his sheet music to read. His reply, 'If you can't play it in the darkness, you can't play it in the light.' What keeps us playing is love. It can be love of music, of words, of science, of the earth, of someone, of friends, of God or of life itself, but it is love, infinitely bound to gratitude for life, raw life and all that is attached to living."
These days fears about personal finances and the economic system are very real. We would like to keep things under control and be safe during tough times, but that may not be the best plan. McKenna tells this story:
"A discarded bottle lying on the ocean bottom is, it seems, an irresistible temptation for a baby crab. The little creature glides easily through the bottle's mouth to discover an enclosed world that offers everything it needs: plenty of organic debris to eat, shelter from the strong currents and, best of all, protection from the countless predators who feed on young crabs. Delighted, it makes itself at home, and begins to thrive in its cozy surroundings. After some weeks, however, when instinct tells it the time has come to migrate, it crawls confidently to the opening, expecting to swim back out the way it came in. That's when it discovers the ghastly price of that time of perfect security: it has grown too big to fit through the neck of the bottle. In a terrible ironic twist, that safe shelter now becomes a death chamber; its protective shield will be its coffin."
In the closing chapters, McKenna has some important and revealing things to say about the fear of God and the mystery of grace. Love, and Jesus' parting gift of grace, helps us face what frightens us. She ends with a spiritual practice:
"Write your own vow of how to be a tiger in your world. Then share it with others. Make a list of tigers who will stay together and face whatever fears there are together. Pray to the Lord of all, God's tiger, Jesus, who sees us as cubs learning the truth of what it means to be a tiger."