Having the Courage to Be

Staff_McDermott, Tom“Hope you have a good time.” “Hope you’re OK.” “Hope to see you again.” “Hope you have a safe flight.” “Hope you aren’t surrounded by fussy infants and toddlers and can get some sleep on the plane.” (Well, as I’m writing, we are on a jet coursing high above Greenland on our way home from Germany — with twin 2-year-olds beside us who are positively adorable . . . when not fussing).

Common forms of wishing one another well — we do it all the time. Casual forms of communication. It’s not so much that we don’t mean well. It’s more that we really sort of mean nothing much at all. More like a kind of casual etiquette, time fillers for what might otherwise be an awkward moment of silence. It’s just polite.

Each night, for the past week or so, I sang IZ’s familiar adaptation of Dorothy’s lament from the Wizard of Oz to our 5-year-old granddaughter, Molly, “. . . Someday I’ll wish upon a star and wake up where the clouds are far behind . . . me. Where trouble melts like lemon drops, high above the chimney tops . . .” Wishful thinking, really — as if to say, “I’m tired of this familiar pattern of anxiety and fear in my life, of this drudgery, of this routine, of the pain of the world; I long to wish it away and wake up somewhere else — where there’s candy and blue sky . . .”

Then one night Molly interrupted my singing, put her hand to the uke, silenced the strings and said, “Daddo, that’s not the right words. I’m gonna ride a star with everyone else on stars all around us and we’ll all eat lemon drops with Santa on our chimney.”

It occurred to me she was on to something. Hope is not wishful thinking, even though that’s how most folks treat it — hoping things will change one day, wishing that life was better or different, hoping for the best in our lives and our world. Molly was saying (in her own way I think), “Hope is grabbing a star by its point and riding, while helping everyone else find a star, too. And lemon drops taste good. Whatever it is that needs to be different, then it’s time to see it different, to have courage and live it different. If it’s a little scary, that’s OK. It’s bigger than me and I get to play my part.”

It seems to me this is what Mary, Jesus’ mother, is saying in her soliloquy, her Magnificat, upon Elizabeth’s visit to her house to announce that she, too, is pregnant. Her hope seems to come as she suddenly recognizes she is a part of something so much bigger than herself. Something clearly requiring courage. But more than simply courage to face the unknown, Mary is recognizing her courage to be who she already is, has always been. As E.E. Cummings said, “It takes great courage to grow up and become who you really are.”

Where you are right now, as you read this, how are you a part of something larger than yourself? The scene changes moment by moment, but the breadth of God’s being in the world is there. Where, how, are you in it? I remember sitting on the subway in Berlin, the U2 line (where the band U2 had literally just played an impromptu concert a few hours earlier). The train was filled with a hundred or more passengers tightly packed like dominoes, seated and standing, mostly silent, reading books, staring blankly, some smiling at a friend, mostly quiet and minding their own business. A disheveled “John the Baptist,” imitating an unstable young man, gesticulated, pontificated loudly in German to no one in particular and maybe everyone in particular. It was a surreal moment. I think about the moral tensions and despair in our country right now as more women break their silence about being sexually abused or harrassed by a wider range of men in places of political, religious, educational, relational power. What is it to be a part of the bigger picture in the midst of such denial, fear, and mistrust? What would it mean to come to be who I truly am in such a time as this?

Now the two young kids beside us on the plane are whining again. Loudly. Instead of plugging her ear buds in, Linda leans in toward them with her sock on her hand in the form of a puppet and begins talking — a woollen John the Baptist, or perhaps Mary, singing praises to something so much bigger than us all. It takes courage to be who you are in each moment given to us. It’s less about our ego and more about participating in the moments given to us to bring life to life.

I hope you can join us this Sunday, December 10, as we continue our Advent series, First Light — The Light of Hope. We’ll have some wonderful Christmas specials, a lovely piece with cellist Dace Sultanov, and another clever visit from the folks at the American Egg Nog Association. Join us as we explore hope that transforms the moment from vision to being: hope — “the courage to be.” I look forward to being back with you this Sunday!

Tom

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