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Monday, March 20, 2017

Need for Courage

I have begun to receive a new journal of spirituality. I thought it could be quite helpful, but it turns out to be mediocre at best. Now that may seem like an odd comment on spirituality. After all, how does one determine that a spirituality is “good” or “bad” or just mediocre? Either I do not know or I know it would take an entire book to answer that question. Since I have no interest in writing that book, let me simply say that my judgment is doubtlessly subjective.

And I would hasten to add, I do not think the spirituality represented in the journal is mediocre. In fact, I am not sure spiritualities can be good, bad or mediocre. I think they can be more or less meaningful to a variety of people. I actually said I thought the journal was mediocre. And I feel like there is some basis for that kind of judgment. A journal could be good or bad based on things like writing style, cogency of argument, perceptive development of ideas, etc. I find this new journal fairly mediocre because it seems to me that the spirituality presented is superficial.

That’s nothing new in our society, I would contend. Much of religious language, exhortation, and presentation is superficial. Let me explain. Let’s take the sentence, “we should love everybody,” as an example. I understand that sentence. I agree with it and I could tell you I agree with it. We could both walk away assuming way too much about me. For one thing, just because I believe it does not mean I do it. Maybe I even plan to do it in the future, but not now!

If we agree that we should love everybody but spend no time taking that to some detail, we have opted for the superficial. If I tell you that we should love everybody, you could ask me how I practice this? That forces me to begin to be specific and to develop my answer with some depth. This is what I am finding missing in the new journal. (I admit I have only read two issues, but how long does one hang on with a new project before saying it really is not worth the money or time?)

It is not a total loss, however. Perhaps that is like most things in life. Normally, things are not a total waste in life. The question more normally is whether something is worth the time and the money. That’s where I am with respect to the journal.

In the most recent issue, I did find one little article a bit helpful. Without going into much detail about the article itself, I can simply say the author was addressing the inward heart of people---that place where we encounter the Divinity. Thomas Merton normally called this the “true self.” Quakers traditionally talk about the “Inner Light” or the “Light Within.” I find this focus very interesting. I want to know what that “place” is? I want to know “how” to get there? I am curious how we “meet” God there? I understand that much of this is metaphorical. This means we talk around it and talk about it, but we can never nail it like you can in science.

This is where the author offered a helpful comment to me. She said, “Discipline and fortitude have always been required to persevere on the journey to the innermost chamber of the self. Saint Teresa (of Avila) is blunt: ‘I tell you there is more need for courage than you think.’” Indeed, this is helpful, but it is not at all developed. I want to say, “Yes, that’s true; courage is more needed than we think. But how do we muster more courage?” The article is silent to these queries.

If I want to begin or continue the journey to the innermost chamber of the self---and I do want to---then how can we muster more courage than we thought we might need? I offer some quick observations.

Most obviously, we should first ask God to “en-courage” us---to put courage into our hearts. Seems simple, but so many folks try going it alone! Secondly, I think we are better off hanging out with spiritually courageous people. Saints are preferable! I am convinced I am more courageous when I am with people of courage. Thirdly, we should spend regular time growing in courage. Why would we think our measure of courage is given once and for all and is, therefore, static? I submit we can grow to be more courageous.

All of these observations begin the process of adding a little depth to the fairly superficial note that we will need more courage than we thought. Of course, my observations now need to be pushed even further. For example, how do we ask God to encourage us? To answer this takes us even more deeply.

All of this is another argument for community. I figure if I can be part of a vital faith community, then I can be led and forced to go beyond the superficial. And that will enable me to grow in the Spirit and more likely to go further on that journey to the innermost chamber of the self.

Not only do I need more courage, but also I think I have a clue how to get some!

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