Reflections to start the week
Monday, January 12, 2015
I raked in at Christmas. Now that we’ve moved from the season of Christmas to the season of Epiphany, I’m mindful of many wonderful gifts I received, some of them found under the tree, some of them bits of good new. (Not to be mysterious: my wonderful son announced his engagement to a wonderful young woman, all of which is wonderful.)
It’s probably dangerous, perhaps unseemly and possibly ungrateful to highlight gifts which are among my favorites, but I’ll go out on a limb here. As I write, I’m looking across the top of my laptop at a small necklace, one of four that my daughter purchased for each member of our family, a small gold chain with a simple medallion. On each of the medallions is engraved the same citation: Joshua 1:9. If your trip down Sunday School memory lane doesn’t bring the text of that verse to mind (below). Our family has encouraged each other over the years, in times of adventure and adversity, with this call to courage. We are bound to each other by that call, which is why we each got that same necklace.
That verse from the book of Joshua was given to the children of Israel as they were facing new challenges, forging a new community, ready for the new thing God had for them to do. That call bound them together.
A variation of the verse occurs in several places in the psalms, that book which is really a guide to liturgy. Episcopalians may note that the call to courage surfaces in our own liturgy. The prayer we say after communion, as we are sent into the world, asks that we will have “strength and courage to love and serve with gladness and singleness of heart”. The call to courage has for centuries found its way into worship. Who knew that worship was meant to give us courage? It binds us together to face the world.
Think with me this Monday morning about the word courage. It connotes bravery, the willingness to face fears and failure. Brene Brown writes powerfully about the call to be courageous, noting how responding to the call with vulnerability can bind communities together. Her book Daring Greatly was prompted by a speech given by Teddy Roosevelt, especially this excerpt: “It is not the critic who counts…the credit belongs to the [man] who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming…at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly.” A call to courage.
But perhaps more than bravery, the power of the word comes from its link to the French word for heart (coeur), which is to say that on some level, the courage to which are called, the courage binding us together and provides a way to move forward, is a matter of heart. As we note in the work we do focused on spiritual growth, that movement is really about the deepening of love of God and neighbor. So if we are called to be of good courage, we are called to deeper love. As Brene Brown says: “Our communities need love and a sense of belonging. In their absence, there is always suffering. We all need to be seen and loved. We all need to belong. We all need to be brave.”
As a hack, amateur cartoonist, I’ve been so saddened by what unfolded in Paris last week. The events have caused me to think about who “je suis”. My thoughts have been led to the ministry of Karen Armstrong, former nun, now prominent religious scholar with a vocation to think about how the world’s religions can possibly get along, how we can have courage for the facing of this hour. We need her now more than ever. She has devoted time, talent and treasure to presenting compassion as the highest common value among the great faith traditions. Consider her insight: “Religious people often prefer to be right rather than compassionate. Often, they don’t want to give up their egotism. They want their religion to endorse their ego, their identity.”
Her call to compassion seems to me to be a lot like the call to courage. That call to be compassionate (literally, compassion means suffering with) seems currently compelling. Will you join me with strength and courage to consider what a more compassionate world might look like, daring to shift the focus from self to the other, praying for those like the people of Paris now called to courage? Will you join in the challenge of considering courageous ways to be more compassionate this Monday, January 12, with the people you’ll see in the next moments: family, friends, co-workers. This is hard work. Jesus knew how to do it. He teaches how to do it. I wonder if we will learn.
– Jay Sidebotham
I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. -Joshua 1:9
Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage. Wait for the Lord. -Psalm 27:14
Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord. -Psalm 31:24
Grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart; through Christ our Lord. -The Book of Common Prayer page 365
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
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