The rich TV preachers, you know the ones I mean, they tell you to give money to God but you must send it first to them; they tell us our faith is somehow deficient if we suffer at all. Gain is good, they tell you, and brag about what God gives them through you.
Jesus said, “He who gains his life shall lose it. He who loses his life for my sake will gain eternal life.”
Jesus said these things, but the TV guys just don’t agree with Jesus, here or anywhere. They have what they want; private planes, gated communities, all the things that keep a busy money-maker from the common person.
This post is not about them, as much as they may annoy me. They cannot seem heroic to me.
This post is about people who live courageously with whatever is killing them. I know they are heroes, because I see them wince but never hear them cry. I intend to recall heroism for our sorry age. Our culture is increasingly shoddy, vulgar and fearfully lost. I believe there are heroes all around us though; people whose very existence could redress our grievances against men and institutions.
I want to rethink heroism.
Let us rethink heroism together.
A hero/heroine, a gallant living being, is one courageous enough to learn from anyone or anything, even the injury or illness robbing life and energy. In fact, the pain one feels may be the best teacher. Weakness and vulnerability may be better educators than youth and strength.
Of Goethe, Henry Miller once said, “Everything nourished him.”
You remember Goethe. He was a playwright and poet. He was also the fellow who said, “We talk too much. We should talk less and draw more.”
Beethoven was deaf, Michelangelo eventually blind, Van Gogh so fitfully engaged he would take his body apart one blemish at a time. Deaf, blind, manic; the beauty they brought into the world endures even now. They lived courageously, so long as they could, with the agent of their own destruction.
Heroic people somehow know, before the rest of us, that they are somehow called to a particular sacred work. They are aware of this fact: a calling is not just an inner experience. Their calling is to the world, to the heavens, to themselves first but not finally. They are servants of the cosmos.
This is to say, a heroic person acts from a sense of wonder. Our hero understands he or she is part of something larger than the self. The hero has a super strong ego, one so strong he needs no ego-centrism.
Nat Tracy used to tell his classes, “You will live a long time in heaven, if not on earth. It is thus appropriate to work on your character every day.”
A hero is one who senses what her symptoms tell her. She would never waste a good crisis, weakened as she may be when it comes. After all, weakness is what makes a crisis a crisis. No one wants to be sick but illness or injury can tell us great things if we listen. At the very least pain makes us one with a suffering humanity.
The night before His death, Jesus prayed His most human prayer. His Gethsemane prayer is one of pain. He is vulnerable as we do not see Him elsewhere. Alone a few feet away from sleeping friendship, Jesus, the Christ, called God “Father” and begged God to take away the pain He felt, as well as the pain He was about to feel. Jesus then offered Himself to God, demonstrating the purest humility.
“Nevertheless,” Jesus told God, the Father, “do what you want with me, according to your will. ”
So, in His human prayer, alone and vulnerable, as naked of friends as He would be bare on the Cross, Jesus told us what He really surrendered to live as Himself and so teach His followers how to live as humans before God. Jesus surrendered the independent exercise of His divinity as Second Person of the Trinity. In so doing, He makes the doctrine of the Trinity necessary. Jesus demonstrates humility, which is a preference for the will of God over the will of self.
We cannot do without the Jesus Story. If we change any part of His story, or alter His story to fit our story, we do violence to the whole. Only three or four stories are available in human history. They repeat themselves fiercely, as if they have not been told endlessly. The Jesus story is Legendary, a word we prefer to Mythical, because we still think Myth is falsehood. The Jesus story is both actual in history and true in myth. His story does not have to be taken out of context to be valuable, if we first believe His work is true, whether we can prove it is factual or not.
To collect facts and call them truth may be the least form of knowing. A hero can accept the epic story as this; the way the Sacred enters the world. The entry of Sacred truth into human history should be seen as costly to the object and to the subject of his intended entry. Our heroic journey may be simply this; a present search to find where we coincide with the sacred.