Rev. Catharine Is Currently
On Medical Leave

What Does Courage Look Like Today?

What Does Courage Look Like Today?

I am frustrated and stressed out by my own internal concerns:  Writing, friendships, family matters.

A dear friend is dying of rapidly progressing cancer, and I am in anticipatory mourning.

PriceWaterhouseCoopers—of all institutions!—says that we are twenty years away from catastrophic climate and habitat change.

Under the eye of eternity, I asked myself this morning, under the eye of eternity, what matters?

There are easy answers, or rather, simple ones, but I hesitate to take refuge in them.

We cannot do more than we can do…and yet we must nonetheless try past what we believe is our capacity. A dear friend and family member takes showers in the dark, unplugs all appliances when not in use, is vegetarian, takes his bicycle wherever he can (which in his case, is most places), writes poetry, works on a farm, and has committed his life most seriously to the cause of defending and preserving Earth’s health and the possibility of human habitat.

I cannot bicycle anywhere. I am not a vegetarian. My life is not wholly committed to the cause of Earth’s health. I ask myself, “what does the courage to change look like today, here, in this moment?”

Yet, I wonder, is there any other cause worth taking up? And is the cause of human health, happiness, and insight of value in an age when we threaten our own collective lives with such abandon?

I cannot help believing that human interior flourishing is a goodness. I cannot help believing that learning who we are and what we are most deeply called to do is a benefit to Earth and all Her creatures.

Sometimes, though, sometimes I wonder.

I share this missive of grief and doubt with you to say that spiritual practice will not save us from pain. It can—and does—save us from extended suffering based on false beliefs. Furthermore, practice can provide a solid ground on which to stand when friends are dying, family is hard, and insecurity is the reality everywhere we look.

The touch of the Source of Being—Male, Female, Both, and Neither; One and Many—is the touch toward which I have learned my entire life. It is the touch I lean into at times like this.

The embrace of the Mother, the energy of the Maiden, the challenging Eye of the Crone—these appear in my practice as both support and confrontation. The examples of Jesus, both the one breathing peace and the one overturning tables with a braided whip, come to mind as I consider the candles on my altar.

Krishna and Arjuna discussing the Bhagavad Gita’s great questions of dharma, purpose. All these are available to me because of practice and years of insisting on Communion with God.

Practice is nothing but navel-gazing if it does not make us more virtuous. And by practicing virtue I mean—among other things—demonstrating authenticity, integrity, compassion, and wisdom. If we do not grow in compassion and insight, then it behooves us to question our practice, and certainly beliefs that undergird it.

Yet it also bears mentioning that action without contemplation can also be rootless. It can breed rampant despair and anger among us. Things are bad in the world, and without powerful love and wisdom to guide us, we grow jaded and calcified in our anger.

Things are indeed very bad. I will not list here the environmental degradations I can name immediately, the number of sexual assaults I know about, the depths of both institutional and personal racism in the US, the people I have lost to addiction and suicide, the state of the US public education and higher education systems…I will not. But there is much that invites us to despair.

Galadriel says in The Fellowship of the Ring¸ “Hope remains while company is true.” I hope she’s right. I hope that we will keep trying to build coalitions around justice. I hope that we will recognize that Earth justice is social justice. I hope we will come together across races, classes, genders, philosophies, and religion. That is what I think of when I think of company being true.

We must realize that Earth is not here to serve us. Indeed, we are small part of Her. We have done ourselves a great disservice in not recognizing that fact. Instead, we have delighted in our outsized power, and done as civilizations before us have done—committed injustice upon one another and upon the land, sea, and air.

One way to encourage ourselves to be our “right size,” where justice and healing are concerned, is to engage regular spiritual practice. A practice that reminds us that we are both a tiny, effectively invisible speck in the Universe can also be a practice that reminds us of our tremendous power and responsibility.

Action and contemplation go hand-in-hand, as many of the great religious traditions have shown. Action need not be public. Contemplation need not be religious. But we need both of them.

What does courage look like today?

How can you allow yourself to settle into contemplation or do something active that will change yourself and the world for the better?

I ask myself these questions today, and I commend them to you.

6 Responses

  1. Catherine, thank you for your beautiful reflection. So much resonates with me in this season as I struggle to find balance between critical and important self-care and ministry. Contemplation and action are necessary in each. I struggle to see the time in contemplation, rest, and self-care as valuable. And yet, I know from experience they are not only valuable, but vital. Today, I am focusing on breath….that in and out we share with all living things. To breathe in hope and let go of despair, to breath in life with all is pain and joy and let go of meaninglessness, to breath in peace for the moment and let go of the weight of chaos, to breathe in light in a world that seems so dark. Thank you again for your words and your light!

    1. Thank you so much, Dawn. I’m glad that this message could bring some insight or comfort. Please stay in touch, beautiful spirit.

  2. I am very moved by your words, Catharine. Thank you for putting pen to paper (or the digital equivalent) and taking the time to express this here. That dance between action and contemplation is one that is at the heart of my own spiritual practice but I have rarely seen it expressed so beautifully. Much gratitude.

    1. The sisters with whom I lived, The Sisters of St. Joseph of Baden, always described themselves as contemplatives in action and active contemplatives. That has stuck with me through many years of solid practice, no practice, and “wobbly” practice. Thank you for your thoughts.

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