Life is a gift to be received with gratitude, and a task to be pursued with courage.*
I didn’t write that. But at important times in my life, these words have been my motto, the voice in my conscience urging me to put one step in front of the other and live boldly. They remind me that a life worth living includes taking risks, putting forth effort, and remembering that it’s all a gift—every breath, every heartbeat, every joy, every grief.
It’s the risk-taking portion that’s the hardest for me. So what am I afraid of? is what this quotation asks me. I say it often in benedictions: Have courage. I preached it as recently as yesterday, Palm/Passion Sunday, that the gospel writers want us to see Jesus’ courage as he enters Jerusalem, moving toward his betrayal and death. I tell others to be courageous, probably because I need to hear that word myself. I’m a cowardly lion.
But maybe not as much as I fear. I learned about courage in time spent with the Corrymeela Community in the early 1980s. It was not courage that took me to Northern Ireland during the “Troubles;” that was youthful adventure-seeking, with a dash of caution. Courage is different from that, and different from foolhardiness. Courage involves understanding the danger yet taking action anyway, because of some higher principle or motivation. At Corrymeela I met deeply courageous people who had devoted their lives to peace and reconciliation, often at great cost. Their invitations to me to return and join them for a longer period of time made me question the safe, conventional way I was living my life. I began to understand that life, my life, needed to be pursued with greater courage. I followed the call and went to seminary to see if ministry was the courageous path for me.
In the years since, at times when my life has become safe and conventional, the call to be courageous has sounded louder in my soul. What am I afraid of? It’s good to be reminded that “courage” means “heart,” and “heart” is a common metaphor for inner strength. Life is a task to be pursued with inner strength. I can work on that.
The worship center at Corrymeela is a heart-shaped building called the Croi, the Irish word for heart. Here is the Corrymeela Prayer for Courage, recited every morning in community worship.
Courage comes from the heart
and we are always welcomed by God
the Croí of all being.
We bear witness to our faith
knowing that we are called
to live lives of courage, love and reconciliation
in the ordinary and extraordinary moments
of each day.
We bear witness, too, to our failures
and our complicity in the fractures of our world.
May we be courageous today.
May we learn today.
May we love today.
*The Confession of 1967, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)