Meeting the demand for courage

Impulsive animal courage may come easily. But it's God-impelled moral courage that helps mankind in the truest way.

I was playing in a soccer match. On our side there was a tough but fair player who moved with momentum on and off the ball. As the game progressed it became clear that one of our opponents saw but one way to stop this player—by fouling him. Tempers began fraying, and the situation was poised to collapse into a violent confrontation. There seemed to be an urgent need for somebody to step in and take control of the situation.

I felt I needed to pray before considering any action. My prayer came in the form of a poem. It was one written by Mrs. Eddy, and the line that came to mind was "Seek holy thoughts and heavenly strain, / That make men one in love remain." I reasoned from the basis of one God, one divine Mind, one universal source of thought. I glimpsed that where aggressive and retaliatory thoughts appeared to be, there was, in reality, only holy thought. And where a conflict seemed evident, there was, in truth, the heavenly strain of pure and perfect harmony. I stayed with these spiritual truths until I had a clear conviction of the illegitimacy of any cause for conflict. God, Love, I knew, is the only genuine cause. Consequently I lost all anxiety about the possibility of confrontation.

The results were heartening and immediate. As it turned out, I didn't need to take any action. Nor did anyone else! The foul kicking suddenly stopped, and there was no eruption. Moreover, the two potential combatants gradually struck up an accord, eventually laughing and joking together and really looking like men that "one in love remain." I was almost surprised at this visible affirmation of all I had been praying to perceive!

This incident illustrated to me the healing potential of responding to a situation that demands courage by first finding the humility to lean on God. By contrast, another occasion—in which I attempted to show courage by intervening impulsively—taught me the potential flaws in trusting human action alone, even if such action might be considered brave.

I was on a subway train when two men started fighting. Others looked on without getting involved. I jumped up and separated them, and I have to admit that I felt quite pleased with myself as they sat down, seemingly subdued.

But in this case I hadn't paused to pray before deciding to act. Nor did I pray immediately after acting. At the next stop they got off the train, and as it pulled away with me still on board, I helplessly watched them start the fight over again from where they had left off.

Looking back over the two incidents, I realized that I could learn a lesson from them about courage. Christian Science helps us see that there is a vital difference between moral courage and animal courage. These incidents indicated my need to dig deeper into the Bible and the writings of Mrs. Eddy to understand what that difference is! It is particularly evident in the contrast between the actions of Jesus and the Apostle Peter at the time of the Master's arrest. Christ Jesus had gained through prayer the clear recognition of the need for his obedience to God's demand of the moment upon him. He had recognized the magnitude of the promise—universal salvation from sin, sickness, and death—that rested on that moment's obedience. It is hard even to begin to estimate the profound depth of moral and spiritual courage behind the Master's prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, "Not my will, but thine, be done."

Moral courage always involves thought or action grounded on the conviction of God's total control.

In contrast, at that vital moment Peter had slept instead of watching. When the soldiers arrived to take Jesus away, Peter hadn't seen through the daunting picture before his eyes to the spiritual fact of God's ever-guiding hand, always governing wisely. Observing the obvious injustice of leading the Master away as if he were a criminal, Peter boldly lifted a sword and cut off the ear of one of the servants. But in this case the "courageous" step taken was not at all appropriate, as Jesus could see from the altitude of a vision at one with Spirit, God. Mrs. Eddy explains in Science and Health: "The great demonstrator of Truth and Love was silent before envy and hate. Peter would have smitten the enemies of his Master, but Jesus forbade him, thus rebuking resentment or animal courage. He said: 'Put up thy sword.'"

After persuading Peter to put away his sword, Jesus went on to heal the injured ear of the servant. Jesus' action illustrates the all-encompassing love of true moral courage. Whether it leads to specific action or effective silent prayer, moral courage—derived from God, impartial divine Principle—inevitably serves the good of all.

In contrast, animal courage, even for genuinely good causes, involves personal perspectives and limited human hope. In fact, animal courage arises from the standpoint of believing in the ineffectiveness of God's power. Instead, the great need is to proceed prayerfully from the scientific conviction of the impossibility that such infinite power could be rendered ineffective, even momentarily. Moral courage always involves thought or action grounded on the conviction of God's total control.

For healing to happen, individually or internationally, true courage is certainly needed. In the news we see the courage of world leaders willing to implement new ideas that they are convinced are for the common good. We learn of the courage of individuals willing to take a stand against corrupt leadership and injustice. When the effect of these actions is deep and lasting, we see how powerful a tool for good the quality of moral courage can be.

Moreover, it always requires courage for anyone to take a stand for spiritual healing—to rise up against the common drift of opinion that would resign life and health to material cause and effect. Finding fortitude to go against the currents of human assumption doesn't always come easily. But it is just this kind of courage that comes through the understanding of man's true, spiritual nature as the reflection of God. When we understand that man's real being expresses the perfect, eternal nature of divine Love, in which is no fear, we find that our fear disappears. Courage comes to light through prayerful perception of man's true substance, which includes strength and integrity.

As we more clearly see the contrast between God-impelled and humanly impulsive courage, we can increasingly embrace the God-derived standard for ourselves. Then the true substance—the true metal!—of a wise, Christly courage can come shining through in our character. We'll be courageous enough to really trust God's will for us in all aspects of our lives—in our business, home, relationships, and church work.

This is the wise way to proceed. In Science and Health Mrs. Eddy says, "There is too much animal courage in society and not sufficient moral courage." Let's pray to express more of the Spirit-based bravery that really answers humanity's deeper needs. Surely there's no doubt that such genuine, Christly courage is available to us today!

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Effective prayer
January 11, 1993
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