Theologians talk about a prevenient grace that precedes grace itself and allows us to accept it. I think there must also be prevenient courage that allows us to be brave – that is, to acknowledge that there is more beauty than our eyes can bear, that precious things have been put into our hands and to do nothing to honor them is a great harm. -Marilynne Robinson, Gilead
Last Friday I gave the reflection for our department meeting. It had been a while as we meet with less frequency and what is seen as my “traditional and homiletical” style is favored by some more than others, but as Father G. was absent and it was his decision as to who would open the meeting, “traditional and homiletical,” would be what we got. I had been quite impressed with a quote by the very Catholic Blessed Pope John Paul II I saw posted on Facebook and I had been thinking of the very Protestant Marilynne Robinson’s novel Gilead as well. As I don’t get to speak to the group very often I decided, in an act of ecumenical chutzpah, to work both into a reflection about the imago Dei.
When I did the reflection, I left out the part of the above quote about courage. I did not have the time for that and I wanted to work in the JPII quote referring to him as Blessed, just in case anyone at my Catholic workplace had been under a rock for the last couple of years and perhaps giving a dog whistle of sorts to those who know of my religious struggle in the last few months. The exclusion was unfortunate for courage is not a trait limited to the Protestant, Catholic, or anyone else. It is also a trait prevalent at Misericordia and all those other places where people do that difficult work which is called human services.
I want to use two upcoming posts to speak of courage, especially as it exists in a prevenient sense. As I know of no better way to define courage than the word “Yes” and especially “Yes” as it has love as its object, that will be the emphasis of my posts.
In the first post I will use Gilead, a book that has marriage at its center, to address human intimacy. On this matter I will only say my post is not to be about marriage as the only way we can say yes to intimacy, but it is the most obvious.
My second post will relate more directly to those I know in the human services and the type of courage that says “Yes” to love in the way Jean Vanier has said “Yes.” That is the kind of courage I saw in the room where I gave that reflection and it is one that receives too little attention. That is the Yes that one says when they hear what Vanier calls the primal cry of “do you love me?” and “do you want to be my friend?”
These two types of courage have more in common than we suppose and I hope this will be reflected in my thoughts. If nothing else I wish to express that courage can only be had because it is really comes from that which is larger than us, but nonetheless invites us to knowing it in the most intimate way granting us that bravery to say Yes to the “precious things that have been put in our hands.”