Friday, February 05, 2010

a lake of cowardly souls

So much to say that can't be said.

Not here, at least. Not in words. I suppose this is why I take photographs; writing is so definite, so tidy. And the process takes a lot of courage, and often it just doesn't work. I stewed all morning about a dream, for example. A dream that made no sense, yet felt so important. If I wrote it here it would gather shape and particular meaning, and at the same time lose much of its mythic significance. It would be a petty human dream.


Let's write about courage instead. So much of life takes courage. And courage is not one of my strong suits. I used to have a strip of tape stuck to the inside of my front door with the word "courage" written on it. In fact, I posted a photo of it here on this blog. Maybe I was more courageous back then, but I doubt it.

Long, long ago--in my second year of undergraduate studies--I transferred to a Bible school. Now that was courageous. I was utterly miserable at the Bible school, though, and sensibly returned the following year to the sedate and dignified Catholic university I had previously attended. But misery aside, I gained a lot in that one year. For example, one sermon preached at chapel lodged itself in my brain. It was about courage. The somewhat timid graduate student who was preaching that day took his text from the book of Revelation:
The cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death. (Revelations 21:8)
This is a very bothersome verse, not even considering the fact of a fiery lake of burning sulfur. If we concede such a lake, I assume that it would be teeming with the vile and murderous, witches and warlocks, baby-killers and baby-sellers, and the like. But the cowardly? That worries me. And so it worried the student who preached the sermon--why would the merely cowardly be listed with these other seriously reprobate types?

You begin to consider adding "courage" to your New Year's resolutions. Or just to your door for that matter.

I am not courageous. I have been hiding out from an elderly lady who I told I would help. She is a rather insistent old lady for whom "no" is not an acceptable answer, and to her great benefit she is also increasingly deaf. However, I thought because she lives a great distance from me I was more or less safe. But she and her family have shown up at my parish the last few Sundays. I spent both Sundays hiding in the back of the church, visiting the restrooms, and inventing various reasons to be invisible. This is not the first time I've had to do this sort of thing. I've found myself hiding in restrooms many times in my cowardly life.

Charles and I are reading the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. No need to say, cowardice is not one of them. Not only that, but it seems you need courage to be effective. Every other habit seems to require courage. Avoiding conflict, wishing people could read my mind, leaving unpleasant truths unsaid, and hiding in bathrooms are not only going to eventually land me in a lake of burning sulfur, but they make my life right now more or less ineffectual. Sigh.

So I write to gain courage. Putting words to print, and then pressing the publish button, commits me. If I write with more bravery, honesty, I may in fact gain some of that bravery in the day-to-day actions of my life. I cannot say it all, it's true. My dreams may be best unwritten. But in many ways I become the person I write about. Here I face my cowardice, revealing its silliness and vanity, and here also find a surer heart and a broader smile.

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