The definition of outward courage - being brave, doing something under difficult circumstances, is perhaps the most common understanding of courage in our society today. The image that comes straight away into my mind is that of St George slaying the dragon. or Samwise Gamgee and Frodo Baggins on their long journey into Mordor, in The Lord of the Rings, who kept on going, step by painful step, in spite of every peril on the road. Every soldier who goes into battle shows great courage.
But such deeds are not a part of most of our lives. Most of us will live our whole lives without having to undertake a perilous task, or enduring physical dangers.
But inner courage is something we could all do with more of. It is about living wholeheartedly, about standing up for what we believe in. In poet David Whyte's words, it is "to make conscious those things we already feel deeply and then to live through the unending vulnerabilities of those consequences. To be courageous is to seat our feelings deeply in the body and in the world; to live up to and into the necessities of relationships that often already exist, with things we find we already care deeply about: with a person, a future, a possibility in society, or with an unknown that begs us on and always has begged us on."
Above all, courage is the willingness to be vulnerable. As Brene Brown writes: "Heroics is often about putting our life on the line. Ordinary courage is about putting our vulnerability on the line. In today's world, that's pretty extraordinary." Because it is often so much easier to Do Nothing! To keep your head down and your mouth shut, and not to stand up and speak out in a difficult situation.
We live in a troubled world. Everywhere we look, on Facebook, in the news, there are stories of ordinary people, people just like us, being deprived of their rights, imprisoned, or denied access to benefits, because of the colour of their skin, their sexual orientation, their gender, or their religious faith. Every day, it seems, the new US President is promulgating another law to exclude another particular group of people from the full benefits of society.
And it's not just in the States that these things are happening. Towards the end of last year, I went to see the film I, Daniel Blake, which really brought home to me what an unequal society we live in, here in our country. I blogged about it here.
I believe that sometimes, courage is just taking the first step. The first step which takes us outside of our comfort zone, moving us from a place of inaction and "walking by on the other side", as the Priest and the Levite did in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, to a path towards acting from a place of integrity, standing up for what we believe in, speaking out against evil and injustice, wherever and whenever we encounter it.
It involves being in touch with our feelings, our beliefs; feeling the fear, and doing it anyway. It isn't easy; nothing worthwhile ever is. It involves laying our comfortable lives on the line, being awake to the many injustices in our society, in our daily lives, and daring greatly. Taking a deep breath and being seen. Because it's worth it. Because we are worth it. It's about saying "yes" to life.
But ... sometimes, just sometimes, courage can also be about saying "no". Just this week, I was invited to take on another role in our Unitarian movement nationally. My first instinct was to say "yes", particularly as the person doing the asking was somebody I like and respect very much.
But a little voice in the back of my head was saying "Hang on a minute, let's think about this." And I did start to think about the many calls on my time, both paid and unpaid. My ministry, my work for the Worship Studies Course, and my spiritual direction and training, not to mention this blog! And also the fact that I have a body and a spirit and a marriage, all of which need nourishing.
So I said "No, I'm so sorry; I can't commit to anything else." It took a lot of courage, as I hate disappointing people. But it was the right thing to do, for me, at this time. And I know that if I had said "yes", I would have ended up feeling depeleted and resentful, which would have done no-one any good.
How will you show courage, in the weeks and months ahead?