Acting with Beauty and Courage

We have no reason to distrust our world, for it is not against us. If it has terrors, they are our terrors. If it has an abyss, it is ours. If dangers are there, we must try to love them. And if we would live with faith in the value of what is challenging, then what now appears to us as most alien will become our truest, most trustworthy friend. Let us not forget the ancient myths at the outset of humanity’s journey, the myths about dragons that at the last moment transform into princesses. Perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act just once with beauty and courage. Perhaps every terror is, in its deepest essence, something that needs our recognition or help. 

Rainer Maria Rilke

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I’ve always loved fairy tales. It often seems to me that they hold the memories of all the stories and experiences of our journey as human beings. They stir up echoes of things we know, but have forgotten. They remind us of who we are, and of what is necessary to be alive and awake in the world.

How do we act with the beauty and courage Rilke speaks of? How do we approach brokenness with recognition and help, when anger and frustration at the pain in the world and in our own lives threatens to engulf us, or keep us numbed in an attempt to function? It’s as though there is something in us that wants to meet fire with fire, to blaze into the hurts and challenges with force, with the armour that anger or disengagement provides.

I like that Rilke uses the word beauty, a quality so often seen as superfluous. Years ago I sat in a small, box-like room at university for a lunchtime lecture. The man giving the lecture spoke of the room we were in, of its sparse, utilitarian nature, its ugliness. He said that there was a sense in which that room was evil in its complete lack of beauty. He said that form and beauty is as important as function, that we need it. And for all our talk of the brutality of nature and survival of the fittest, creation is saturated to the point of overflow with it.

Can we believe that at the heart of every struggle there is the possibility for renewal? Can we reach into our individual and collective fears with a vulnerability that enables us to acknowledge what we find beneath the surface? And from that place of acknowledgement, can we act with kindness towards ourselves and others?

These are hard questions, without easy answers. I wonder if part of the solution lies in an ability to be softer, to believe that God is at work and that in our willingness to enter into vulnerability, we can be part of that work.

 

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