My wife and I recently discovered New Harmony, Indiana, a very spiritual place of retreat near Evansville. In New Harmony there is a statue and garden dedicated to Paul Tillich.
Paul Tillich was a highly revered German philosopher and theologian who spent the last 10 years of his life (1956-1965) as a professor at Harvard and the University of Chicago.
One of his many books was The Courage to Be, published in 1952. It’s one of those books that was required reading in the seminary and also one of those books a reader never forgets. I like to say that Tillich’s phrase, “The Courage to Be” means “Say Yes to Life.” The highest form of courage is saying yes to life.
Say Yes to Life seems to crystallize what ancient philosophers and sages of all faiths and cultures have been telling us for thousands of years — our life on earth has meaning and an ultimate purpose. When we come to understand that life is a balancing act between good and evil, and we work our way through the hardship and suffering that come with it, we eventually discover and appreciate the joy that surrounds us. The most basic requirement is courage.
Paul Tillich reminds us that while neither birth nor death are choices, everything in between is. And in spite of life’s many negative elements, we’re challenged to make the most of it under all circumstances. If we don’t have the courage to do this, we’ll never find the real meaning of our lives. And we’ll never become the fully alive people we’re capable of being. Tillich says courage is the vital strength we need to rise above the hardships and sufferings of life and find something ultimately positive and meaningful.
It is courage that restores hope to the heart. In our day to day lives, we often show courage without realizing it. However, it is only when we are afraid that courage becomes a question. Courage is amazing because it can tap into the heart of fear, taking that frightened energy and turning it toward initiative, creativity, action, and hope.
When courage comes alive, imprisoning walls become frontiers of new possibility, difficulty becomes invitation, and the heart comes into a new rhythm of trust and sureness. There are secret sources of courage inside every human heart; yet courage needs to be awakened in us. The encounter with the beautiful can bring such awakening. Courage is a spark that can become the flame of hope, lighting new and exciting pathways in what seem to be dead, dark landscapes.
We often equate courage with valor, bravery, gallantry, and heroism. It conjures up images of great martyrs like Joan of Arc, patriots who declared our independence and fought in the American Revolution, reformers like Mahatma Gandhi, and civil rights leaders like Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr. The courage of these people has always been honored and celebrated. It’s the best known and most admired of many types of courage. But we need to be reminded that there are other types of courage that are equally important. One of them is the everyday courage of saying yes to life.
Life is hard, and life is often unfair, and we can expect trouble. But that doesn’t mean we have to let it defeat us. Digging down, finding strength, and standing up to hardship can be one of the great rewards and joys of life. It takes this courage to say yes to life — the everyday kind of courage.
A well-known advice giver sums it up well:
“IF I WERE ASKED TO GIVE WHAT I CONSIDER THE SINGLE MOST USEFUL BIT OF ADVICE FOR ALL HUMANITY IT WOULD BE THIS: EXPECT TROUBLE AS AN INEVITABLE PART OF LIFE, AND WHEN IT COMES, HOLD YOUR HEAD UP HIGH, LOOK IT SQUARELY IN THE EYE, AND SAY, ‘I WILL BE BIGGER THAN YOU. YOU CANNOT DEFEAT ME.’” — Ann Landers
By Bob Mueller
Bob Mueller is the bishop of the United Catholic Church. bobmueller.org
P.S. Find your zeal. Experience the passion of truly being alive no matter what happens.