Every so often something happens that shocks our comfort zone or just prompts us to reflect. That is part of life and it is healthy because comfort zones are, in reality, probably not actually comfortable, and they keep us stunted. In those moments when we are shaken awake, we inevitably ask ourselves, “what then shall we do?”
The question is ingrained in our humanity. Luke writes about crowds seeking to come to terms with new revelation, using the same expression: “what then shall we do?” (Luke 3: 10). Even tax collectors and solders wondered (3: 12, 14), “what then shall we do?” And in his second book, he gives us a picture of an audience “cut to the heart” (Acts 2: 37), and asking Peter and the other disciples, “what then shall we do?”
Both Leo Tolstoy and Gar Alperovitz chose the question for their book titles to reflect on poverty and exploitation and new realities. It is fitting that we too, as we face new challenges, we constantly and conscientiously ask ourselves, “what then shall we do?”.
I say conscientious, deliberately. Conscientious is defined as “governed by conscience; controlled by or done according to one’s inner sense of what is right, and principled”. Perhaps we have travelled too long on a path lacking in those virtues but we need not stay on that path. If peace and joy are the desire of the human heart, we will only find them internally, not with external power.
In a sermon recently at a local parish church, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams urged: “Whatever you do, ask yourselves, ‘what kind of humanity do you desire?”
This got me to reflect – at a personal level – on John Macmurray’s observation that “it is in and through my consciousness of other persons alone that I can know myself as a person”. We are,. as a community and as a society, a composite of individuals. The humanity in our community and in society is projected from the individual persons we are.
Think about it as we move forward in life. There is a deep desire in every human heart and we are ever in search of it. C. S. Lewis observed that that deepest desire of the human heart is joy. There are many routes in pursuit of this yearning desire of the human heart: wealth, health, fame, power, and so on.
However, Saint Augustine discovered – and we would do well to learn – that “Our Hearts are Restless Until They Rest in You” (from Confessions).
One of the 4 cardinal virtues mentioned by St. Ambrose in his commentary on the gospel of Luke is that of fortitude. Fortitude? What is that? It is certainly not in our everyday vocabulary.
Even before Ambrose, Plato, Cicero and Marcus Aurelius, all recognized fortitude as a virtue. But what is it?
The word is derived from the Latin fortitudo, and can mean endurance, strength, forbearance, or the ability to be in control in times of uncertainty, fear or intimidation. Some translate it loosely, as courage but I want to underscore here, the “ability to remain under control”. It is not to control, but to be under control.
Anxiety to control circumstances and the energy we exert in the vain exercise, are the source of much of the frustrations we find in life and in society. It makes it so much more expedient that we constantly remind ourselves and learn to practice this virtue of fortitude.
Peace and joy are incompatible with a mindset of controlling – and this is not to be confused with being under control. The latter involves surrender. So, to truly experience peace and joy, begin each day asking yourself, “what area of my being, my make-up, do I need to surrender today?”