Morning Coffee with Dave & Paul

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Courage is the affirmation of one’s essential nature, one’s inner aim or entelechy, but it is an affirmation which has in itself the character of “in spite of.”

Paul Tillich, The Courage to Be

Rainy and cool, this Saturday morning spent in The Gallery at Redlands in Palestine, Texas has offered a perfect enclave for coffee and books, surrounded by art. In this quiet and lovely space, I have felt my soul restored.

The theologian Paul Tillich has been one of my intellectual and spiritual heroes since 1992. He embodied courage to me, standing up to the intimidation tactics of the Hitler regime on university campuses. In 1933, he was numbered among the first dozen faculty to be dismissed from teaching posts in Germany (him being the only non-Jew). American scholars meeting at Columbia University saved his professional career, bringing him to New York’s Union University for a fresh new beginning. He served at Union twenty-two years before moving on to Harvard for the next seven, then on to the University of Chicago, where he taught until his death.

Reading Rollo May’s Paulus: Remiscences of a Friendship back in 1992, I finally learned about the lifestyle of this scholar whom I had known only by reputation. Tillich’s passion for scholarship, teaching and the arts renewed my own faith in what I was doing and continue to do this day. When I find myself torn between desires to read a book, scribble in my journal, listen to a lecture on YouTube, play my guitar, or work on a watercolor, I think of Paul Tillich who wished he could engage in several pursuits at the same time. Today has been one of those days. The gallery environment always stirs my creative blood. Hence I packed in all my art supplies, a dozen books, my journal, my laptop and my guitar. Now I need to decide which to do first.

Though never facing crises remotely connected to what Paul Tillich endured, I still have endured a string of personal, gut-wrenching failures in life, going all the way back to the early 1980’s (I am confidant that I am not unique in that). What inspires me about this book, The Courage to Be, is the author’s stress on that fortitude in our souls that fights back when circumstances try to convince us that we are of little worth. That was the echoing refrain when I suffered a major setback in  life, or failed to accomplish a significant goal. Circumstances seemed to cry out that I was inadequate. But at the same time, I would rebelliously take inventory of what I had accomplished (especially those victories won without encouragement from others), and I would feel myself crying out: “I am worthy! And I am playing the best I can with the hand I’ve been dealt.” Paul Tillich was an existentialist theologian/philosopher. And one of his hallmarks was the belief that what mattered in life was how you play the hand you are dealt.

Many have their own ways of thinking about death and what comes after. I think of Paul Tillich’s ship arriving in New York harbor in 1933, and no one here in America to greet him (though most likely someone from the Columbia gathering was waiting for him). Nevertheless, it had to be dreadful, Tillich leaving his homeland to start over in New York, with a feeble grasp of English. Most certainly, he felt anguish, wondering what he would encounter on this shore. When I think of death, I think of myself arriving at a port, and Paul Tillich waiting at the landing to greet me. I have so cherished and taken to heart his writings throughout my adult life, wishing I had known him while he was living, that I now fantasize of him knowing that someone on this earth, in the next generation, sought out his courageous writings for strength while teaching and figuring out life. I see him making his way through the throng to reach me, and taking my hand, I hear him say: “Welcome home at last. I have been watching over you for decades. And my presence was real during your times of anguish, and I’ve been waiting for this moment finally to meet you. We have so much to discuss, and an eternity to catch up.”

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when feeling alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone. 

 

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