Courage, Dear Heart
By: The Rev. Canon Heather L. Melton, Staff Officer for the United Thank Offering
[While navigating the darkness in the ship…] Lucy leant her head on the edge of the fighting top and whispered, “Aslan, Aslan, if ever you loved us at all, send us help now.” The darkness did not grow any less, but she began to feel a little – a very, very little – better. […] Lucy looked along the beam and presently saw something in it. At first it looked like a cross, then it looked like an airplane, then it looked like a kite, and at last with a whirring of wings it was overhead and was an albatross. It circled three times round the mast and then perched for an instant on the crest of the gilded dragon at the prow. It called out in a strong sweet voice what seemed to be words though no one understood them. After that it spread its wings, rose, and began to fly slowly ahead, bearing a little to starboard. Drinian steered after it not doubting that it offered good guidance. But no one except Lucy knew that as it circled the mast it had whispered to her, “Courage, dear heart,” and the voice, she felt sure, was Aslan’s, and with the voice a delicious smell breathed in her face.
—from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C.S. Lewis
My apologies for starting us off this month with such a long quote, but whenever I am feeling a bit uneasy about the world, I often find that I return to Narnia. I am writing this as we enter the sixth week of stay at home and as some states are beginning to allow things to reopen. I live in a state where things are not likely to reopen before summer unfolds around us, and the tension of that reality wears me out at times. Some days, I feel a bit like Lucy in the passage above. The darkness makes it feel a bit like they won’t find their way out, and while some on the ship take the opportunity to panic, Lucy simply calls out to Aslan for help. The reply comes swiftly in the form of an albatross and the message of “courage, dear heart.” Courage comes from the root “cor” or the Latin for heart. Courage comes from our heart, which is also the place we often associate with love. I don’t think that is a mistake, as courage and love often go hand in hand. For me right now, this is especially true. Lucy calls out to Aslan for help, and in the simple act of naming what she most needs (which Brené Brown would tell us is the act of courage here, as courage, in one of its earliest forms, meant “to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart”), Lucy feels better. I love this play on the word courage between Lucy’s prayer and Aslan’s response. She is courageous, and Aslan replies by telling her that she is loved and that she must continue to be courageous. Lucy is my favorite character in Narnia because when she is willing to follow her gut / heart / instinct toward Aslan (or toward love / goodness / wholeness) she does well, but to do that often requires her to be a little bit braver than she thinks is possible, as there are many who question her or try to derail her. She is courageous in the face of trying, difficult, and uncertain events.
I was reminded of this passage a few weeks ago after Katelyn Kenney (former UTO intern) mentioned the importance during the pandemic of courage and a deeper understanding of it. It really resonated with me and reminded me of Narnia. I began reading The Chronicles of Narnia again, this time to my daughters. Courage, for me, is what comes after I hit a wall with the whole staying-at-home thing. I name that I am struggling, and then I practice gratitude because, for me, gratitude is really key in the moment after I call out for help, begin to feel a bit better, and then need to build on that. Perhaps, if we follow Narnia still, gratitude is kind of like that albatross. It gives us hope, perspective, and strength. When we are overwhelmed, trying to find gratitude can feel like trying to find grains of sand in your house. But like sand, gratitude seems to spread from the time you notice one grain until you feel like you have a house full of sand and it sticks to you. It builds you up, and it gives you courage. Staying at home is courageous. It goes against our very nature as human beings. We are pack animals – our very health is weakened when we are in isolation. It takes courage to go out and work in grocery stores, hospitals, gas stations, farms, etc., so that we can all continue through this pandemic. It takes courage, dear hearts, to care more about the collective than about ourselves. Courage means that we lead and live from the heart, we speak our truths, and we look for the glimmers of hope. We continue on our journey because, like Lucy of Narnia, we know that Aslan – that God – is on the move and our job is to continue to seek and follow and find God in the midst of all this.
Over the past two weeks, I have witnessed the UTO Board practice intense courage. Sherri will give you the details in the next article, but I want to close by saying that courage is also contagious. I have been strengthened by the Board and the coordinators who have called and asked, What can we do with what we have? The decision was made, through research, prayer, and courage, to use the 2020 Ingathering to support COVID-19 responses. Never more than in this moment do I see the courage that gratitude demands, as well as the direct link that gratitude and giving to UTO have to the blessings we receive and that others will give. So, I encourage you to continue to be courageous and to practice gratitude because the world needs both now more than ever. I hope you’ll join me in making thank offerings this year so that the ways we’ve been blessed by the sacrifices of others in the midst of this pandemic will support those in need from that same experience. And remember, courage comes from the heart. It means telling our truths, both that we are struggling and in need of help and that we are grateful when help arrives. So, please be gentle with yourselves and a tiny bit more courageous than you thought you could be.