2019: It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.
Every year brings its own gifts and challenges. For me, though, 2019 brought a lot of both. It was a hard year in some respects. More conflict than normal. Many tears. Wrestling with hard questions and hard answers. Raging at the darkness that I feel hanging over my country.
But it was also a beautiful, redemptive year. I got married. I moved into a home where my spouse and I feel peace and stability. I gained a bit more clarity about who I am and a sense of calling that flows through my life.
Above all it was a year that required courage.
Thankfully, courage was a word (and a practice) that I began exploring and embracing since the beginning of the year. It was my “word for the year.”
And the word came with a verse from the gospels that I returned to repeatedly throughout the year. It’s the story of “blind Bartimaeus” who heard Jesus of Nazareth walking by and cried out for his merciful, healing touch. The disciples, assuming their teacher needed bodyguards and tour managers, tried to push him away and silence him, but he only got bolder and louder.
Jesus takes note, turns to the man, and tells the disciples to bring him close. Perhaps finally getting it right, the disciples walk over to him and speak empowering gospel words: “Take courage; stand up; Jesus is calling you” (Mk. 10:49). He did. And his life was transformed.
“Take courage; stand up; Jesus is calling you.”
Those words worked in me throughout 2019 as reminders of a divine invitation to me for the year.
Jesus is calling you.
So, how did I (imperfectly) practice courage across the last 12 months? I was called to courage in at least 7 ways:
- Courage to be: Okay, I admit it. I ripped this off of the famous philosopher and theologian Paul Tillich. He spoke about the courage required to live fully and accept God’s gracious acceptance of us in an age of anxiety, despair, and destruction. Still applies. I feel that in my country and in my mind. When I’m experiencing a wave or season of clinical depression, it often feels like even getting out of bed and into the shower requires heroic courage. But I chose to take courage–to wake up, get up, clean up, and show up to life despite the forces within and without that resist Life.
- Courage to be-come: “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage,” wrote Anais Nin. Every living thing evolves, emerges, changes, and grows. Only dead things stay the same. I let myself change in 2019 (while maintaining congruence with my core values and true self).
“What really matters is openness, readiness, attention, courage to face risk. You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith, and hope. In such an event, courage is the authentic form taken by love.” ~Thomas Merton
- Courage to confront: As a peacemaker by nature, confrontation requires a lot of courage for me. But in 2019 I faced some hard truths and had some hard conversations with friends and family members. I don’t know how effective or dignified those conversations were, but I knew I needed to have them and I gathered the courage to practice “speaking the truth in love.”
- Courage to commit: I got married! This is a big deal for anyone making such a weighty promise but it was also hard for me because I wasn’t just getting married. I was getting re-married. So saying yes to life with another person required the courage of risk, vulnerability, and trust.
- Courage to create: In a world of competition that is often unforgiving and reductionist, creating something new requires courage. Offering one’s creations to the world is a fearful thing. What if the mocking voices we battle within us are spoken by the people with whom we share? I have had a book idea and several chapters in my heart and mind (and computer) for a few years now. This year I met with a publisher and pitched my book. I hadn’t been that terrified in years. But I took courage and shared my idea and it may just become a reality.
- Courage of calling: I’m cautious of using the word “calling” because it’s often defined narrowly; but it has taken on fresh meaning for me lately. The world calls to us; our souls call to us; the Divine Lure calls to us. If we are living and listening at all, we are called. I practiced courage in 2019 by listening for that call and letting it guide me into some new and unknown places. More on that later.
- Courage to continue: This is still in progress. Courage may have been my word for the year in 2019 but that doesn’t mean it no longer applies. Whatever new word comes must build upon my practice of courage. And, as Maya Angelou reminds us, courage may well be the most important of virtues because without it we cannot practice any of the other virtues consistently. “You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.”
Speaking of Maya, I recently read a poem by her titled “Continue” that felt timely and en-couraging. I will “take courage” with me into 2019 as I continue to learn its wisdom and add new words to my practice. What will you take with you?
[By the way, if you live in Ohio and you are interested in the One Word for the year practice, I will be leading a workshop on Dec. 12 at People Place in Cardington, OH.]
Continue by Maya Angelou
My wish for you
Is that you continue
To be who and how you are
To astonish a mean world
With your acts of kindness
To allow humor to lighten the burden
Of your tender heart
In a society dark with cruelty
To let the people hear the grandeur
Of God in the peals of your laughter
To let your eloquence
Elevate the people to heights
They had only imagined
To remind the people that
Each is as good as the other
And that no one is beneath
Nor above you
To remember your own young years
And look with favor upon the lost
And the least and the lonely
To put the mantle of your protection
Around the bodies of
The young and defenseless
To take the hand of the despised
And diseased and walk proudly with them
In the high street
Some might see you and
Be encouraged to do likewise
To plant a public kiss of concern
On the cheek of the sick
And the aged and infirm
And count that as a
Natural action to be expected
To let gratitude be the pillow
Upon which you kneel to
Say your nightly prayer
And let faith be the bridge
You build to overcome evil
And welcome good
To ignore no vision
Which comes to enlarge your range
And increase your spirit
To dare to love deeply
And risk everything
For the good thing
Happily in the sea of infinite substance
Which set aside riches for you
Before you had a name
And by doing so
You and your work
Will be able to continue