Connie Baker | Spirit Matters: Courage and hope

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I've been thinking lately about courage and hope. National and world events, as well as the challenges of my daily life, invite courage and hope to help me through each day.

Hope is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as "desire with expectation of fulfillment." Courage is the "ability to conquer fear or despair." Hope is one of those human experiences that gives meaning to our lives. Mark Twain said that courage is the foundation of integrity.

How do we find hope and courage within ourselves? How do the two work together, to build on each other? Do we draw on our spiritual beliefs to nourish these traits?

Courage is not just for fight or flight, imminent danger situations, but for everyday life. We summon our courage when a loved one is sick, when we must say the difficult thing, when we call a friend whose dear one has died, when we stand for our beliefs in the face of opposition, when we speak out against injustice, when we face our inner demons. Implicit in these acts of courage is the presence of hope — hope that our loved one will get well, hope that by speaking our truth we are acting for good, hope that our words will bring comfort to the grieving, hope that standing for our beliefs will speak truth to power, hope that by confronting injustice we bring more justice into the world, hope that we can conquer our inner demons and become better for it.

There are countless examples of courage and hope from all religions and faiths around the world. In my faith tradition, I'm often inspired by the courage of the early Quakers who persevered as they were imprisoned in unimaginably harsh conditions at Newgate and other prisons in England for simply practicing their religion. In the 1930s an American Quaker named Prudence Crandall integrated her boarding school for girls in Connecticut by accepting an African American teen, and soon all white families withdrew their daughters. Crandall then filled her school with African American girls and the response from the community was harsh and violent, and the state instituted the "Black Law," intended to close the school. Though Crandall kept the school open through three court trials, which eventually negated the law, she ultimately closed the school out of concern for the safety of her students when the townspeople set the school on fire. In our Quaker worship, we wait silently, in expectant stillness, hoping for Divine guidance. Often the guidance we seek and sometimes receive, requires courage to act in the way we are led.

In my work doing bereavement support I have witnessed so many individuals and families who find courage and hope after the deaths of loved ones — of grandchildren, of sons and daughters, of brothers and sisters, of mothers and fathers. At first their despair and pain seem insurmountable, but gradually, and with a lot of hard work, they rise from the depths and find the desire to engage in life, with the "expectation of fulfillment." As Desmond Tutu said, hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.

And finally, I'm thinking of the courage and hope of refugees who flee persecution and danger. A dear friend of mine, Amalia, had to escape from Iraq in the early 1960s. Because her father was Jewish and her mother was Catholic the family experienced increasing hardship and danger from the ruling Ba'ath Party. Her father took the family on a daring nighttime escape across the Tigris River in oil barrels, and then by foot through the desert to Iran, and eventually Israel, and then New York City. It's hard for us to imagine how refugees face the fear inherent in such journeys.

Acting with courage and hope can be part of a spiritual practice. We draw inspiration from aspects of life that we view as "spiritual", from forces we feel are somehow greater than ourselves. Part of our work is to integrate these forces that seem greater than ourselves into who we are as humans, so that courage and hope become part of our everyday existence.

Connie Baxter is a member of the West Brattleboro Quaker Worship Group and the Brattleboro Area Interfaith Clergy Association.

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