I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.Joshua 1:9, The Bible
The courage to be is the ethical act in which man affirms his own being in spite of those elements of his existence which conflict with his essential self-affirmation…The courage to be is rooted in the God who appears when God has disappeared in the anxiety of doubt.Paul Tillich, The Courage to Be
I don’t know what strikes fear and dismay into your heart. Maybe it’s the headlines. Or a barrage of emails sent by decision-makers who are doing the best they can with a dumpster fire raging out of control and a smoldering landfill nearby. Maybe it’s fear of having to actually use the ridiculous glitter-infused hand sanitizer from Bath and Body Works that your mom got you for Christmas years ago. Maybe your heart beats a little faster when there is no chicken, bread, milk, or toilet paper on the grocery shelves you took for granted. Maybe you are ninety-two years old, or wondering if you will get a chance to (cool) iron out the square creases of your plastic-wrapped cap and gown. Maybe you wake up in these strange days, knowing that your old and new co-workers will require, in addition to the usual productivity, food/treats/diaper changes/entertainment/walks/exercising/snuggles. I don’t know what it is that makes you fearful, but it’s enough.
For me it’s partly the experience of asking, all at once, if something like “Zoom” can facilitate meaningful worship, vocation, meaning and purpose, family, and community. For me, it’s knowing, as I write this, someone will not turn ninety-three. For me, it’s knowing, as I write this, you will learn that you won’t walk across the commencement stage in your neatly pressed (or not) cap and gown on the day you intended. For me, I am dismayed at the Sisyphean task of self-examination and existence in a world that is so uncomfortably different from the one I had become accustomed to.
I am also encouraged. I am encouraged by educators who risk new pedagogies so that what they know of the world will be carried by a new generation. I am encouraged by students who trust that the pursuit of knowledge is worth fighting for. I am encouraged by families who are honest about the pain of living with one another. I am encouraged by lapsed musicians who pick up their instruments, and active ones who deliver their art in unique ways. I am encouraged by friends who offer to put jigsaw puzzles on their porch for a trade. I am encouraged by communities of faith who step back long enough to examine the “why” of their sacraments as much as the “how.” I am encouraged by libraries who let me check out dozens of books for the long haul. I am encouraged that faith, hope, and love still abide in a time when doubt, despair, and hatred are easier.
I don’t know what encourages you. I don’t have a recipe for these times (though I can recommend good cookbooks and tell you to wash you hands before eating). I hope that you will take time to be lost, to be poor, to take risks, to feel the dusty rocks and sharp stones of the wilderness beneath your feat, to mourn what will not be. I hope you will choose to live again, in spite of all that threatens to undo your life. Most of all, I hope that you will be, and be of good courage.