Fr Ray Hemingray has shared his thought for today, Sunday 23rd May 2021.
The current pandemic has given rise to the need for many people to find extra reserves of courage, for example: courage to admit infection and take appropriate action; courage for some to overcome an injection phobia; courage for people seriously ill from Covid-19 to have faith in hospital staff trying to keep them alive. There are still many people frightened to mix socially with others, even if they have had two Covid jabs. It will be a long time before life gets back to ‘normal’, whatever that may mean post-pandemic.
An American First World War fighter pilot once defined courage in this way: “Courage is what you’re afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you’re scared.” Fear is the challenge that courage has to confront and overcome. Martin Luther King Jr said this: “Courage faces fear and thereby masters it. Cowardice represses fear and is therefore mastered by it.” This sentiment was reflected in some words of Nelson Mandela, who said, “I learned that courage is not the absence of fear, but triumph over it . . . The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
Another word for courage, usually used in the context of armed conflict, is ‘valour’. An example of valour would be the story of a young midshipman who in 1856 was on board his ship when a bomb from a Russian battery landed on the deck with its fuse still burning. He picked up the bomb, carried it to the side of the ship and dropped it into the sea. He was awarded the Victoria Cross, which, as you may well know, bears the words: ‘For Valour’.
For those with a faith, courage can mean trusting in God, when the going gets tough. When Moses was encouraging people to cross the Red Sea to escape from their Egyptian pursuers, he said, “Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it is the Lord your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6 (New Revised Standard Version of the Bible – some Bible versions translate ‘bold’ as ‘courageous’))
A phrase – indeed a command – that appears many times in the Bible is: ‘Do not fear’. We are encouraged, when things look bad, to trust in God and our Lord Jesus Christ. The day before I wrote this piece, a friend telephoned me to say that he was going into a London hospital for open heart surgery. If things went wrong, he wanted me to conduct his funeral. But I did not detect any fear. I am sure he had faith and trust in the medical team and in God. But, being a practical man, he just wanted there to be a Plan B – just in case!
When someone says, ‘Don’t be afraid. I will look after you’, sometimes trust is only half the story. The other half is obedience. For example, if we are being rescued from a motor accident, it will help us to overcome our fear if we put our trust in the emergency services and do exactly what they say. They know what is best for us. In a similar way, God knows what is best for us, if we place our trust in him and are obedient to him whenever we are seeking his help. Here is a story about trust and obedience from the adventurer and explorer Bear Gryll’s book, ‘Soul Fuel’:
‘A good friend of mine once told me that one of the most powerful talks he had ever heard came from a simple, seven-minute sermon by a guy who had joined the army. The speaker wasn’t particularly eloquent or erudite; he simply stood there holding his pair of army boots in one hand. Everyone was curious.
“This one’s called Trust,” he said, dropping the left one on the floor with a bang. “And this,” he said as the right boot fell, “is called Obey. Trust and Obey – they’re as essential to a life of faith as these boots are to a soldier.”
Fear and worry lose so much of their power when we choose to trust and obey God. It is a powerful, timeless truth.’
Most people are familiar with Psalm 23 – ‘The Lord’s my shepherd’. Many find it a comfort to be reminded that God is with us, wherever we are, even in death’s dark vale:
‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil:
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.’
So whenever we face adversity in life, let us always remember to put our trust in God, to give us the courage to face the challenges before us. Richard Harries, Bishop of Oxford from 1987 to 2006, wrote this prayer:
O God, you know that we are often filled with fear and foreboding.
Give us courage and deepen our trust.
You are a rock which nothing can shatter.
On you we can place the whole weight of our lives.