To act is to be committed, and to be committed is to be in danger.
Risk is usually associated with the dare devils and thrill seekers. The real danger, we’re told, is a life of boredom. The battle is between the bland and the bold.
Yet, as James Baldwin reminds us, it’s not quite that simple. He places commitment, not thrills, at the center of the game. For him, the ones to be admired are not so much the dare devils as the dedicated ones. And that Holy Grail? Well, he suggests, maybe it’s not “the exciting life” as we’ve been told. Maybe it’s the faithful life.
And that turns everything wonderfully on its head.
From this perspective, the important question about risk (and about life) is not “Are you willing to jump off?” but “Are you willing to jump in?” Not “Are you willing to put yourself in danger?” but “Are you willing to give yourself to something bigger?” Not “Will you be daring?” but “Will you stay true?”
And the message changes too. Suddenly, it’s not “Run to what’s thrilling!” but “Don’t run away!”
It’s all about remembering not to let the thrilling trump the faithful. As exciting as roller coasters and jumping out of planes might be, let’s remember to remind each other that the most deeply rewarding risks are the ones that involve jumping into causes and putting our hearts in the hands of others. As the poet David Whyte puts it: “We are here essentially to risk ourselves in the world. We are meant to hazard ourselves for the right thing, for the right woman or the right man, for a son or a daughter, for the right work or a gift given against all the odds.” Bob Marley’s take is equally compelling. He writes, “The truth is, everyone is going to hurt you. You just got to find the ones worth suffering for.”
And here’s the twist: It’s not just Baldwin’s dangers, Whyte’s hazards and Marley’s suffering that come at us when we take the risk of living faithfully. Grace and gifts slip in there too! As the Scottish writer W.H. Murray explains,
“Concerning all acts of creation, there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no one could have dreamt would have come their way.”
How thrilling is that?
Excerpt from the UU Soul Matters Curriculum.