“The courage to be is rooted in the God who appears when God has disappeared in the anxiety of doubt.” Paul Tillich, The Courage to Be
I was in the laundry-room-cum-library of my building this morning, looking for a paperback for the round trip flight to California later this week. My eyes first lighted on Jacques Pepin’s The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen. I have been reading such memoirs of late, most deliciously that of Ruth Reichl. Her Garlic and Sapphires is a laugh-out-loud pleasure.
Scanning the shelves for one more choice, I came upon the Tillich book, The Courage to Be. The author’s name leapt at me. The recognition came from memories of conversations with my Aunt Mary, a Josephite nun, and from other references during my years in EFM and the Haden Institute. What I also recognized, a bit sheepishly, was that I had never read anything by this highly esteemed theologian of the 20th century. Off the shelf it came.
I have begun my reading, appropriately enough, with the introduction. And, lest you think I rushed to the last page to read the last sentence (which is quoted above), accept my assurances that Peter Gomes saved me the trouble by citing it midway through his introduction. Although, given my usual restlessness, a quick peek at the final paragraph would not have been extraordinary.
And what does my restlessness want but a quick fix?
A new solution?
A “god” instead of “God”?
It has taken me the better part of my lifetime thus far to understand the difference that a capital “G” makes. For I have made much of my worship of “gods”, which have ranged from full-blown addictions, to shopping, to sarcasm, gossip and distraction. Many of which temporarily assuaged, though did not really address or heal, Tillich’s aforementioned “anxiety of doubt”.
In an exchange of letters with Bill Wilson, Carl Jung wrote:
“(Addiction)…was the equivalent, on a low level, of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness, expressed in medieval language: the union with God”.
My personal experience bears this out in spades. It was only when I began to see, reluctantly at first, that the small gods truly had feet of clay (yet, I was the one to disintegrate first), did I make a choice to abandon them each day.
I am not done with this journey. I still do an occasional dance around an idol. I entertain questions and doubts. I find myself discontent with the word “God”.
But, rarely, now, do I find myself pawing underneath the table for the fallen scraps. More often, I am partaking directly of the feast. And, at my best, I am inviting others to join me.