As I prepare for 9/11 commemorations I have been giving thought to courage and how it manifests itself. The Canaanite woman in Matthew 15 comes to mind for her willingness to demand crumbs from an unresponsive Jesus. In a meditation on this passage a woman wrote a prayer: “Dear God: forgive us when we are passive or timid…Bless the quick witted, assertive woman in each of us who trembles even as she dares to speak…” It takes courage to be assertive.
It also takes courage to speak up for reconciliation and the consequences sometimes surprise. In the Call and Response blog at Duke Divinity School Allegra Jordan, wrote this: “ I found God at Harvard in Sunday School, in prayer circles, and at the feet of Peter J.Gomes, ... I came to Harvard in the 1990s from Alabama. A bitter battle had torn apart my own denomination. I wanted nothing to do with church people. But I was urged to try Memorial Church. And there I found grace, love and Christian witness. Peter deeply believed in Jesus and prayer, and helped make it safe for me to do so as well.
The turning point for me was a shocking sermon he preached in 1991, “The Courage to Remember,” where an African-American minister from Harvard railed against Harvard’s Memorial Hall because it only commemorated Union dead from the Civil War, not the Confederates. “Humanity transcends the sides and there are no victors ultimately; there are only those to be commended to God.”
He stood on a notoriously secular campus in one of the most insular towns in America and said we should love people like me: those from the south.”
Allegra closed with this benediction offered by Peter to a class graduating from Harvard: “I wonder how many of you have ever noticed the stone staircases that lead from the first to the second floor of University Hall? They are a remarkable example of the engineering skills of the building’s great architect, Charles Bulfinch, and their particular style is called ‘vagrant’ because they have no visible means of support...they are not a miracle but a marvel.
My wish for each of you is that you have useful, elegant, and efficient lives without any visible means of support, vagrant lives which will suggest to others as well as to yourselves that you are supported by an inner strength, an inner tension, a source of support that appears to defy the laws of physics but which sustains you and supports others.
In other words I wish God for you, that peace which this world can neither give you nor take away from you but will sustain you in this life and get you to the next...We have come now to the end of the beginning and the beginning of the end, and soon you will belong no longer to us or to yourselves but to the world.
Go out there, then, with courage, grace and imagination. We give you our love—a word not used much around here, and saved for your very last moments—and we commend you to the love of one another and to the greater love of a loving God. This now, at last, is the best we can do for you. This is the best that there is and it is yours, so go for it, for God’s sake, and for your own. Amen.”
Robert M. Randolph
Chaplain to the Institute