Usually as we head into Lent, the words that symbolize the season are things like: repentance, humility, and sacrifice.
At the beginning of this week, I started to think about what shape my personal Lenten observation would take. I looked through several different readings and devotional formats and the one word that seemed to keep coming up was courage. Hmmm?
Then I went to the Ash Wednesday service and one of our pastors did a very moving dramatic interpretation of Mark 5:1-20 about the healing of the demon possessed man named Legion. The pastor went on to tell a personal story of being victimized in middle school in the time before our current campaign against bullying among this age group. As the story progressed there was forgiveness and mercy, the usual words we expect in a Christian service, but ultimately there came that word again: Courage.
So my word for contemplation this Lenten season is......Courage.
I looked it up in my dictionary:
Courage: 1. the ability to do something that frightens one. 2. strength in the face of pain and grief. Origin: Middle English, denoting the heart as the seat of feelings; from Old French corage, from Latin, cor 'heart'.
In some ways that's kind of scary. But then as we look at the current state of the world economy, and especially the Michigan economy, courage is not a bad thing to be focused on.
The association of courage and the heart transcends cultural traditions:
- I do like the association with the heart, which reminds me of the cowardly lion in the Wizard of Oz in a secular tradition.
- Wikipedia tells us the Tao Te Ching says that courage is derived from love.
- In a Hasidic tale, a disciple asks the rebbe: "Why are we to 'place these holy words on our hearts' and not in our hearts?" The rebbe replied, "Because as we are, our hearts are closed and we cannot place the holy words in our hearts. So we place them on top of our hearts. And there they stay until, one day, the heart breaks and the words fall in." (1)
- From a Sufi tradition: "God breaks the heart again and again and again until it stays open." (2)
If I am honest in self reflection, I can see courage and cowardice in pretty much equal measure.
As I look at people around me, I see broken hearts.....lost jobs, lost homes, lost hopes. In some I see incredible courage. In others I see despair.
And so it seems that courage is a very appropriate word for this time and this place.
My wish for you today is: "take courage for whatever this day may bring."
(1) & (2) are from Parker Palmer's writing in the current issue of Weavings