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Learning to live in spite of...

A Book Review by Andrea Lingle

Paul Tillich's The Courage to Be gave me language to articulate a knowledge that is deep within me. Sometimes life seems hard. Really, really hard. And just gathering enough pluck to keep your atoms together seems like a large ask...but if you do...if you let go of what you want to force life to be, then you can find the joy of being. If you release God from being what you think God is, then God is free to be the joy that God is. Tillich teaches that there is a certain joy that comes to those who are willing to live "in spite of" the anxiety inherent in life. To live is to experience a certain level of trauma, but to be willing to live (in the sense of being vitally present) anyway is a thing of courage which leads to joy.

The affirmation of one's essential being in spite of desires and anxieties creates joy. Lucillus is exhorted by Seneca to make it his business "to lean how to feel joy." It is not the joy of fulfilled desires to which he refers, for real joy is a "severe matter"; it is the happiness of a soul which is "lifted above every circumstance." Joy accompanies the self-affirmation of our essential being in spite of the inhibitions coming from the accidental elements in us. Joy is the emotional expression of the courageous Yes to one's own true being. This combination of courage and joy shows the ontological character of courage most clearly. If courage is interrupted in ethical terms alone, its relation to the joy of self-fulfillment remains hidden. In the ontological act of the self-affirmation of one's essential being courage and joy coincide. Paul Tillich , the Courage to Be, pg 15-16.

This is a book that requires some effort (or a familiarity with philosophy) to read, but I find myself returning to the language and ideas that Tillich uses over and over.