I’d like to start with a personal reflection on courage, written when I was on a travel teaching trip to Nunavut, in Canada’s arctic.
I had a dream about a cougar, which symbolizes courage. Richard Hastings, a Bahá’í who analyzes dreams suggested in part:
The cougar is a symbol of being courageous and independent. So you are trying to take back your courage and independence. You can bring the cougar inside of you as if you are a cougar. The exercise would be to bring the cougar inside as if you were a cougar and then feel and see and hear what that is like, then use it. The goal is be a cougar with pure intentions. When you can let go of physical concerns, bring the resources inside of you and use them, then amazing things will happen.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá tells us:
Take courage! (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 30)
I realized that I don’t know much about courage, though I think my life has been a courageous one in many ways, so I’m curious about what the Bahá’í Writings can shed on this concept and invite you along on my exploration.
The first quote that comes to mind is:
The source of courage and power is the promotion of the Word of God, and steadfastness in His Love. (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 155)
I have this one memorized but I realize now, that there are 2 parts to the quote:
- Promotion of the word of God
- Steadfastness in His love
This trip has not been one of teaching, curiously enough, given that I’m on a travel teaching trip! Instead it’s been one of learning about love.
Before coming here, I was feeling unloved, unloveable and pretty sorry for myself! Single, alone and lonely! God had systematically removed every significant relationship from my life through estrangement and divorce (parents, siblings, spouse, significant others and son). Nothing I did to try to bring unity back into these relationships seemed to matter.
Since everything I read suggested we need relationships to heal, and I didn’t have any, I asked God to show me I was loved and loveable. And look what He did for me! He brought me to Rankin Inlet, in the middle of a polar desert, to show me how much I’m loved!
He’s used relationships with Bahá’í and non-Bahá’í friends and acquaintances around the globe, who follow my adventure on Facebook and on my blog, to prove my worth! Every day people call to pray with me; send words of encouragement through phone, email and Facebook; and send presents to meet my most basic of needs for warmth and vision – the physical mirroring the spiritual! It’s amazing, awe-inspiring, humbling and I am grateful!
Since coming here, there are many ways God shows me I’m loved every day; which helps me trust His love so I can stay steadfast in it, which is one source of courage I’m working on, and it’s unfolding easily and effortlessly and I am grateful!
The first part of the quote is much harder! Much, much harder!
Although on the one hand, there are many ways to teach the Faith, and I’m doing a lot, it never feels like it’s enough of the right kinds of teaching. I can be really quick to judge myself for not doing more direct teaching in my own neighborhoods, whether at home or here in this community.
Fortunately I’m in good company, as even the Bab didn’t think He was doing enough of the right things!
I beg Thee to forgive me, O my Lord, for every mention but the mention of Thee, and for every praise but the praise of Thee, and for every delight but delight in Thy nearness, and for every pleasure but the pleasure of communion with Thee, and for every joy but the joy of Thy love and of Thy good-pleasure, and for all things pertaining unto me which bear no relationship unto Thee. (The Bab, Baha’i Prayers, p. 79)
My goal in coming here was threefold:
- To maintain a Bahá’í presence in an Inuit community while the only Bahá’í leaves for 10 weeks
- To have an adventure
- To have a writer’s retreat
This is clear in my mind; and clear with the pioneer and those then are my marching orders.
So what then is courage in this situation, and what does being a cougar look like?
I keep coming back to the fact that I need more courage to promote the word of God; and that the only way I get it is to teach the Faith directly. Is that an accurate reading of this quote? Is that coming from my lower nature to “beat me up” or from my higher nature?
As a Bahá’í-inspired life coach I would ask a client which felt better, and I have to say that in my heart of hearts, I know that God is happy with what I am doing and is giving me exactly what I need; guiding me to what’s good for me and for this community and I can let go of any expectations to do more than what I’m doing right now. My biggest job on this trip is to learn about His love as the source of my courage.
It’s good that another thing my dream is teaching me is to be independent, because the relationship between steadfastness in God’s love as a source of courage is certainly not out there in the larger community!
Let’s look at another quote:
Whatever decreaseth fear increaseth courage. (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 32)
I like this one too, because it brings me back to love. How you ask? ‘Abdu’l-Bahá tells us:
It was the Love of God that . . . gave to Moses courage and patience. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 82)
But more importantly, as Bahá’u’lláh tells us in the Four Valleys, love and fear can’t exist in the same heart:
Love is a light that never dwelleth in a heart possessed by fear. (Baha’u’llah, The Four Valleys, p. 58)
So it seems to me that God is telling us that love, by decreasing fear, increases courage.
Feeling unloved by my parents, siblings, spouse, significant others and child has been the way God has used to teach me to turn to Him for love instead of seeking it in human beings:
I have detached myself from my kindred and have sought through Thee to become independent of all that dwell on earth and ever ready to receive that which is praiseworthy in Thy sight. (The Bab, Baha’i Prayers, p. 21)
OK, I confess, I didn’t consciously detach myself from my kindred! I went kicking and screaming! But eventually I gave up and accepted what is, realizing:
We . . . turn nowhere for a haven but unto Thy safekeeping. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i Prayers, p. 22)
I came to realize that since the very purpose of our lives is nothing less than to know God and to worship Him, something had to happen so I could attain my purpose:
I bear witness, O my God, that Thou hast created me to know Thee and to worship Thee. (Bahá’u’lláh, Short Obligatory Prayer, Baha’i Prayers, p. 3)
So to get back to the topic of courage, I can’t get courage without turning to God:
Strive as much as ye can to turn wholly toward the Kingdom, that ye may acquire innate courage and ideal power. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 206)
Once I learn to have love on the inside, and courage on the outside, I need to bring it inside myself, to calm the parts of me who aren’t feeling so courageous:
May you be a source of courage to the affrighted one. (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 425)
Enough about me. Let’s take this quote to you, my readers.
As we’re learning, courage has 2 parts:
Promotion of the Word of God:
‘Abdu’l-Bahá gives us a clear link between courage and teaching and shows what we need to do:
Rest assured that the breathings of the Holy Spirit will loosen thy tongue. Speak, therefore; speak out with great courage at every meeting. When thou art about to begin thine address, turn first to Bahá’u’lláh, and ask for the confirmations of the Holy Spirit, then open thy lips and say whatever is suggested to thy heart; this, however, with the utmost courage, dignity and conviction. It is my hope that from day to day your gatherings will grow and flourish, and that those who are seeking after truth will hearken therein to reasoned arguments and conclusive proofs. I am with you heart and soul at every meeting; be sure of this. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 269)
A perfect story to illustrate this is:
Abdul-Bahá tested both the faith and courage of many of the Baha’is He met and Corinne True was one He really challenged. First, He had put her in charge of the Temple project, a woman dealing with many men. Then, as they stood at the train station before He left for Minneapolis, Abdul-Bahá told her, “Mrs. True, I want you to speak in public. I want you to tell the people about the faith.” This completely floored Corinne and she objected, saying, “But Master, I can’t do it; I have no training, no experience. I’m too frank.” “The faith”, she Thought, “had many gifted speakers, but she didn’t consider herself to be one of them.” Knowing what she was frantically thinking, Abdul-Bahá told her how to do it: “Forget what you can’t do. Stand up and turn your heart wholly toward Me. Look over the heads of the audience and I’ll never fail you.” (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 195)
And another good one:
To another He said: “Man is like a bird in a cage. A bird cannot attain freedom merely by knowing that in the free world there are pure breezes, spacious skies, beautiful gardens, pleasant parks and fountains; rather, the bird must find the power to break the cage and soar into the wide firmament.” (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 205)
I can really use stories like these to beat myself up. While valid for many people, at many times, I don’t think this is what God’s calling on me to do on this trip. This isn’t what God wants from me right now. That’s not what “steadfastness in His love” looks like for me.
Steadfastness in His Love
‘Abdu’l-Bahá lovingly reminds us of the relationship between tests, persecutions and calamities as a way to acquire courage.
Consider thou the lives of the former sanctified souls; what tests have they not withstood and what persecutions have they not beheld; while they were surrounded with calamities they increased their firmness and while they were overwhelmed with tests they manifested more zeal and courage. Be thou also like unto them. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v2, p. 302)
For years I’ve been trying to overcome a lifetime of tests, by learning to apply the “divine remedy” to my healing, and as Bahá’u’lláh reminds us, nothing short of a mystic transformation can turn agitation into peace; doubt into certitude and timidity into courage.
It is evident that nothing short of this mystic transformation could cause such spirit and behaviour, so utterly unlike their previous habits and manners, to be made manifest in the world of being. For their agitation was turned into peace, their doubt into certitude, their timidity into courage. Such is the potency of the Divine Elixir, which, swift as the twinkling of an eye, transmuteth the souls of men! (Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Iqan, p. 156-157)
It has and I am grateful!
By “following the instructions, I have been able to rid myself of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and as a result no longer have TMJ (grinding teeth at night). And I am grateful!
But having faith, patience and courage is only the beginning!
Only have faith, patience and courage — this is but the beginning, but surely you will succeed, for God is with you! (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 101)
Surely you will succeed because God is with you! I love God’s promises!
For More in this Series:
This is what I’m learning about courage. What can you add to the discussion? Post your comments here: