As I try to write these days, the world’s fury almost stuns me into silence. What more could I possibly add, I ask myself, to counter the anxiety, the fear? What could I say to blunt the rage and the hatred, to relieve the dullness, the boredom? My voice feels smaller than it has ever felt, profoundly inadequate, too often a little shrill, unhelpful, self-questioning. We are all anxious. What could I possibly add that might be helpful?

There are lots of proposals out there: Politics will save us; science will rescue us; moving to a small town might provide escape; ignoring violence might make it go away; avoiding conversation might make peace. Whatever we propose, the swirling currents continue to threaten. There’s nothing true anymore, we are told, nothing completely certain. We catch little glimpses that seem hopeful, but then they vanish like a puff of smoke from our smoldering lives.

But wait a minute, this is not me speaking these things, is it? I’m always the hopeful one.

I am told the sixteenth-century German poet and mystic Angelus Silesius once said:

A rose is but a rose,

it blooms because it blooms;

it thinks not of itself,

nor asks if it is seen.

I’d like to be calm like that rose. If I look long enough, the rose resting peacefully in its own beauty, perhaps the anxiety from which I suffer might lift for a moment. In 1947 W. H. Auden wrote his long poem “The Age Of Anxiety.” That title is often used to define our age. But the statistics today tell our own story: Anxiety disorders have tripled over the last year; the prevalence of depressive disorders has quadrupled. We are anxious. We need help. Is there some relief we might discover? Could it lie in the mystery of the story told by a rose?

Or think of Vincent Van Gogh, one of the greatest of modern painters, who fled the bustle of Paris in search of peace in Arles, in the south of France. When unsettling anxieties began to invade his mind, he entered San Rémy, a psychiatric institution. There he discovered radiant sunflowers and dazzling blue irises. His paintings seem a kind of rescue. Maybe we could find that same release by simply gazing into Van Gogh’s sunflowers or irises?

When Wendell Berry, farmer and poet, felt despair growing within one evening, he went down where the wood drake rests:

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the green heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water. . . .

I am reminded of the inimitable Denise Levertov, who at times finds “happiness,” though, she admits, happiness is so often “provisional.” She points to “great suffering, great fear,” constantly floating around. But then she calls attention to this

ineluctable . . . shimmering
of wind in the blue leaves:

this flood of stillness
widening the lake of sky:

this need to dance,
this need to kneel:

this mystery:

And then there is Jesus, who knew about anxiety too. His solution? “Look at the birds in the sky,” he encourages, “consider how the lilies grow in the fields.” And then he adds: “Can anxious thought add a single day to your life?” If we look carefully enough at the birds and the lilies, he assures us, we will find there signals of God’s peace and rest and healing, right there at the heart of things, right there close by.

I don’t want to be silly here. We’ve got so many real troubles to deal with. Anxiety is inescapable, painful, often a troubling disorder. Birds and lilies and shimmering blue leaves, really? But wait, Jesus is on to something, isn’t he? This is where we may hear the invitation to come nearer to the heart of God. We might even find ourselves kneeling, maybe dancing again. If we look at these things carefully, yes, consider them, a great mystery might rise up so much bigger than all our worries? I need these assurances right now. I’ll bet you do too.

Painting: Vincent Van Gogh, Sunflowers