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Reflections from Rev. Emily Gage

What Does It Mean To Be a Community of Courage?

I have a book called Courage by Bernard Waber. It’s a kids’ book, with illustrations, and so it’s full of wonderful images. The cover is a little boy standing on the edge of a very high diving board. It has gotten so this is what I picture when someone says the word courage. I suppose for some, diving off of a high board would be easy. For others, it would take a lot of bravery and determination even to think about jumping off. I’m one of the latter. Just looking at that book gives me butterflies in my stomach.

Courage, of course, looks different for different people, and it looks different for each one of us. The book that I’m referring to has all sorts of ideas what courage is: “Courage is the first to make up after an argument. Courage is sending a valentine to someone you secretly admire, and signing your real name. Courage is the bottom of the ninth, tie score, two outs, bases loaded, and your turn to bat. Courage is explaining the rip in your brand-new pants. Courage is starting over. Courage is holding on to your dream.” It’s a good reminder that the need for courage is woven into every single day, both for really big things and for smaller things.

After I graduated from college, I joined the Peace Corps, and ended up teaching English as a foreign language in Poland. When I share this with people, they often talk about how much courage it must have taken me to do that. For me, the most courageous part wasn’t the actual decision and the leap of faith of the whole adventure. What took the most courage for me were the ordinary parts of it: every day, getting up, and being a real teacher in a high school, negotiating life in a foreign country, learning the language and figuring out how to get by. It felt like an act of courage to go to the store, or the bank, or to face the next group of students that came through my classroom door.

Sometimes what looks like courage from the outside has its grounding in deep-seated conviction about what you feel like you need to do. I have another book which has one of my favorite pieces about courage. “Courage has roots”, writes J. Ruth Gendler in the Book of Qualities, “She sleeps on a futon on the floor and lives close to the ground. Courage looks you straight in the eye. She is not impressed with powertrippers, and she knows first aid.” Perhaps you have felt like this when you’ve set out to do something that feels necessary - a little nervous, but filled with conviction that what you are about to do is what you need to do, and that helps keep you grounded.

Life these days, when so much of what we care about seems called into question in some way, feels like it takes a lot of that kind of courage. The kind where you need to act and show just what it is you believe. It’s not always the easiest thing to do, and sometimes it doesn’t seem to make a difference. But we do it anyway; we have to, even when we don’t know where it will lead. Gendler continues, “Courage is not afraid to weep, and she is not afraid to pray, even when she not sure who she is praying to.”

What does it mean to be a people of courage? It means that we are working our way towards a vision of more hope, more faith, more love. We will get there by listening to our inner voices and our deep convictions, taking a deep breath, and doing what needs to be done. Gendler concludes: “When Courage walks, it is clear she has made the journey from loneliness to solitude. The people who told me she is stern were not lying; they just forgot to mention that she is kind.”