Extracts from today and tomorrow's readings from Henri Nouwen's Bread for the Journey:
"HAVE COURAGE," we often say to one another. Courage is a spiritual virtue. The word courage comes from the Latin word cor, which means "heart. A courageous act is an act coming from the heart. A courageous word is a word arising from the heart. The heart, however, is not just the place where our emotions are located. The heart is the centre of our being, the centre of all thoughts, feelings, passions, and decisions...
Courage is connected with taking risks. Jumping the Grand Canyon on a motorbike, coming over Niagara Falls in a barrel, walking on a tightrope between the towers of New York's World Trade Centre, or crossing the ocean in a rowing boat are called courageous acts because people risk their lives by doing these things. But none of these daredevil acts comes from the centre of our being. They all come from the desire to test our physical limits and to become famous and popular.
Spiritual courage is completely different. It is following the deepest desires of our hearts at the risk of losing fame and popularity. It asks our willingness to lose our temporal lives in order to gain eternal life.
ROLLERBLADED again this morning. It's been seven or eight years since i last did this. This time, through a trial lesson at a skating school near St Ignatius.
All those queasy feelings rushed back the moment i stood up, feet in skates, and elbows, knees, wrists all shielded with protective gear. Fortunately, my instructor was both patient and helpful. After some jerky movements here and there, soon managed to glide a little most of the time -- even over little bumps and slopes.
Some distant memories started floating back: A group meditation guided by a Cenacle sister at a workshop in a retreat centre, "Imagine you are a statue -- any statue, any material, any shape or color."
Actually, i had not daydreamed for a long time by then. "Can i still do this? Anyway, just try," i thought. Closed my eyes and imagined myself to be a statue. Cast in bronze -- arms out-stretched in balance, one foot on the ground and another foot lifted up -- trying to rollerblade. Strangely though, in my mind's eyes, i could see that my face frozen with fear and my mouth half-opened in a stifled scream. Then Sister suggested, "Jesus has come to you now. What is He saying?"
In my meditation, He smiled at me gently and said, "Let us rollerblade together." So, off we went, skating along, er, how about the cycling route by the Niagara River? i had only recently returned from there then. Suddenly, we were flying! Faster and faster, over hills, rivers and valleys, and right over the majestic Niagara Falls! Still faster and faster... (Looking back now, it was like we were travelling at the speed of light! Strange that i could actually feel it.)
Then, Sister said, "Jesus is about to leave. What's happening now?" i could feel myself slowing down. In my mind's eyes, i saw my arms swung above my head and shoulders -- like 'wings' ready to close, the way a homing eagle's about to land on a homing ring!
Back to the present: The way i skate in real life certainly bears little resemblance to my meditation/daydream of flying like an eagle with Jesus. Couldn't help thinking continually this morning, "I must conquer this fear. I will take all four lessons. I will buy the necessary gear to practise rollerblading on my own until this fear is gone." (Outstretched arms, by the way, are not advisable during blading because, as my instructor told me today, "instead of enhancing balance, they could make a fall worse.")
Now, pondering over Nouwen's words, i wonder, "Just what spiritual fear do i need to overcome, what act of courage would come from my heart before i can really (and spiritually) 'soar like an eagle'?"
(See also Be Not Afraid.)