Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Courage

One of these days, I think I would like to get a doctorate. I would love to teach and do research and rub elbows with smart people who are at the top of their field.

Since I graduated from seminary, I've been thinking on and off about grad school. One of the things I've heard both professors and doctoral students say is that you need to have a pretty good idea of what you can contribute to the field before you go into it. My problem is that I'm not sure I have much to contribute - I don't have much to say that hasn't been said before.

In psychology, when a person has goals they can't give up on, yet have no idea how to influence their environment to achieve those results, they are said to use the virtue of courage.

When I think of courage, I'm reminded of these quotes by Thomas Merton, who famously said:
"Why should I desire anything that cannot give me God? Why should I fear anything that cannot take God from me?"

Problem is, I have little grasp on what it is that gives me God. How does anyone influence their environment to give them God? Is it even possible? Or do we instead simply grope around for truth and meaning and salvation, hoping that God, in response, will reach out and grip us?

"A life is either all spiritual or not spiritual at all. No man can serve two masters. Your life is shaped by the end you live for. You are made in the image of what you desire."

Sometimes I wonder, as I search around for God, if I really serve the right master. Am I more interested in making sure everyone agrees with my theology and my reading of the Bible than I am about the narrow way? Am I more concerned that I will get fired for trying to make sense out of God in our postmodern world than I am about trying follow God's work in the world? Am I more concerned about what my family might think than about making the gospel actually good news? Sometimes this tension between the spiritual and not-spiritual threatens to tear me apart.

I'm reminded of Jeremiah's prayer:
"If you have run with footmen and they have tired you out, then how can you compete with horses? If you fall down in a land of peace, how will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?"

This race with the footmen of our fears makes us over in the image of what we desire. We want to be liked, have stability, and have peace with our detractors. But the shape that life takes is one of complacency and impotency. I don't want alleviation of my fears to be the end I am shaped by. I want to be made in the image of the God who terrifies me, yet in whom I find delight.

"Just remaining quietly in the presence of God, listening to Him, being attentive to Him, requires a lot of courage and know-how."

How can someone be shaped by something they can't grasp or control? How can someone be made in the image of that which they grope after? Courage.

Putting aside the fears of life - of running with the footmen - and deciding that something is more important than the fears and anxieties we face is the epitome of courage. Courage is the virtue we use when all our other tools are stripped away and we simply grope after what we ultimately desire above all else.

I'm not sure what comes next is any easier - it seems to me that horses come after the footmen, but should I be any more afraid of them?

Courage.

5 comments:

Luke said...

Ben,

If you don't mind me asking, where did you go to seminary? Also, who were some of your favorite professors? I only ask b/c I've seen you post on seminary and your experiences and professors, but I have yet to read where you went and who those professors were. I'm interested, so please tell if you don't mind.

Benjamin said...

Thanks for stopping in and leaving a comment, Luke! I don't mind the question at all, but there is a reason you don't see too many professor's names or the name of the schools I have attended on this blog.

I don't mind sharing that information, just not in this public place.

Email me at "gilligan_spam (at) yahoo (dot) com" and we'll talk.

Tracy P. said...

" I don't want alleviation of my fears to be the end I am shaped by. I want to be made in the image of the God who terrifies me, yet in whom I find delight."

The white words are as quotable as the colored ones, if you ask me. Courage can only be revealed in the presence of fear. Press on, Ben!

Anonymous said...

I don't know who you are - that I know of - but your blog may have helped me out in that you are contemplating many of the same things I am. I found it because I was looking for that thomas merton quotation.

Based on your profile and your writing, I'm pretty sure I know where you went to school. Not to creep you out.

Thanks for posting.
Anonymous

Benjamin said...

Anonymous - Thanks for commenting. I'm sure you probably could figure out where I went to seminary - though there are good reasons why I don't advertise such a thing.

I'm glad this post resonated with you. I think about these things quite a bit myself.