From the Letter to the Hebrews:
Lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Hebrews 12:12-4 (NRSV) – February 13, 2013.)
Taking up his own earlier metaphor of “running with perseverance the race that is set before us” (12:1), he echoes the Prophet Isaiah, “Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, ‘Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God.'” (Isa. 35:3-4a) He draws from the Proverbs, “Keep straight the path of your feet . . . .” (Prov. 4:26)
Endurance, also known as “fortitude,” is one of Christianity’s four cardinal virtues. In Freemasonry (yes, I’m a Freemason), this Christian virtue is defined as “that noble and steady purpose of mind, whereby we are enabled to undergo any pain, peril, or danger, when prudentially deemed expedient.” As a subject of preaching, I’m afraid, this virtue gets rather short shrift in today’s church. I suppose that may be because the church reflects the popular culture which, with its emphasis on self-expression and instant gratification, emphasizes a sense of entitlement to ephemeral happiness and comfort.
As we begin Lent, it is well to reflect on this virtue. This period of forty days is meant to be our spiritual union with Jesus in his time of desert testing. If ever there was an example of endurance or fortitude, it has to be those days of temptation in the arid land beyond the Jordan. Endurance is a part of our Christian heritage, going back to Jesus and beyond him into the centuries-long story of the endurance of Israel, God’s chosen people.
Endurance is also one of the four Buddhist virtues, although in that religious tradition it is called “eternity”. It is regarded as a quality of inner being which allows the practitioner to remain unswayed by the ever-changing circumstances of life while confidently challenging him- or herself toward enlightenment. It leads, it is said, to another of the Buddhist virtues, happiness, a kind of contentment that can withstand the ups and downs of human existence including death. This is quite different from the vacuous “happiness” of the modern age, that insipid self-indulgence buoyed by unprecedented affluence and rampant consumerism.
This Lent let us eschew the world’s “happiness” and strive for that eternal happiness common to the Christian and Buddhist faith traditions, that noble and steady purpose of mind, that quality of inner being, that eternal endurance that leads to enlightenment, that leads to God.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.