Sometimes the best way to know you can breathe is to hold your breath. The sudden cessation is all the reminder that you need to refresh your innate memory of how it works: air in, air out…
Lately the word “nature” has come up a lot in my life. The dictionary defines it as the particular combination of qualities belonging to a person, animal, thing, or class by birth, origin, or constitution; native or inherent character. In my Feminist Philosophy class, we discussed the idea of an intrinsic woman’s nature. If there really are any characteristics other than reproductive that define us as gendered?
I have also been wondering for the last few months if it is more important to study religion, or the worship of God or to study the nature of God. I am much more _interested_ in the study of what he might be like than in how and why people have come to worship. (Though that is also an interesting topic.)
Today I have been thinking about the nature of courage. This week in Sunday School I will be teaching the children about Joshua and his courage in following God’s will. I imagine that the children will think that courage is something that flows into you, that it is an attribute that comes naturally, without hesitation, as fundamental as eye color to the people who posses it. Of course it isn’t that you have no fear, it’s that you act despite it. That even filled with fear, even consumed by it, you do what must be done. You hold the line, though all the forces of the world might come against you. Your extinction may be certain, your defeat a given, but still you stand. To do otherwise is not to quit or fail, but to no longer exist as who you believe yourself to be. You are the last defender against the darkness, the candle in the wind that refuses to flame out. Your burn, you fight, you hold on. You transform your fear into the energy to overcome it.
You can cry while you do it, you can scream and yell and hate every second of it, but you do it, nonetheless. It doesn’t matter if it’s the courage to get chemotherapy, pull someone you love back from self-destruction or make it through loss. It can be the courage to follow a call and leave a career behind or it can even be the courage to trust or love. It feels the same. So is there a nature of courage? Are all people courageous? I believe that all people have the potential to be.
A close adviser recently told me she thought I was courageous, which is what prompted a little of this introspection. I don’t consider myself to be extraordinarily brave. I just refuse to let fear have one little bit of control over my life. I do consider myself at war with fear. If you look back through history, many of the worst human generated disasters have been caused by fear. Fear of the “other”. Fear of change, fear of loss, fear of persecution, fear of control. Almost every time someone acts out against you in violence or anger, its because they feel threatened in some way. When I feel that familiar flicker of fear, I go on alert, and whatever its urging me to do, I pause, I reflect, I say “wait a minute, hold up”. I’m not talking about not jumping out of the way of a speeding car or anything, I’m talking about stuff that normally goes on below the surface. Here’s the perfect example:
In the past I might have started to like someone a lot, even love them, and it scared me. Suddenly I would notice that I was focusing on the one thing about that person that made me the tiniest bit uncomfortable. As a matter of fact, in the thousand times a day I would think about him, I would find myself whipping out that one uncomfortable thought on cue to see if I could counteract the all the good ones with it. Like an antidote or aversion therapy to fend off my uncontrollable longing to see him. This might have worked once. Before the war.
But I knew my enemy of old. I catch on pretty quickly nowadays. I paused and questioned myself. Why am I doing this? Am I really that bothered by the little thing that I am focusing on? Not THAT much. Am I TRYING to make myself more bothered by it in an attempt to control my feelings for him because I am afraid? Ummm, Bingo!
So I nip it in the bud. I decide to stride forward into the unknown, without any control over those rampageous emotions and it is good. Scary? Damn straight. Does that make me courageous? Or just the enemy of fear? Not sure, but it does make me free.
The Bible story said God gave Joshua strength and courage to accomplish what he needed to. Since God is the fuel that feeds the fire of my spirit, that made all of what I am, perhaps that is the best approach to take when thinking of how to explain courage. That through us, God can act in the world, as a light in the darkness, a force against fear, a powerful agent of hope and love that triumphs in large ways and small. That in this way is the world shown courage, and in this way does it live in us all.