Thought for the Day - Rt Rev Lord Harries of Pentregarth

Good morning. Those pictures of the sinking of the Costa Concordia, like those of the Titanic, continue to haunt us. Above all the action of the Captain disturbs us in a very personal way, with the question “How would I have behaved in a similar situation? There is a line in hymn that always unsettles me “Once in every man and nation comes the moment to decide.” It is this theme that runs through one of the greatest of all novels, Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim. As a young man Jim failed that decisive test, and he spends the rest of his life looking for a time when he could blot out his cowardice and prove himself a man of courage. On my reading of the novel, however, he fails in the end too, because although he dies in a shootout, he has made the wrong decision.

Where he goes wrong is in his self-image as a really brave man who only needs the right situation to show it, whereas the true starting point, I suggest, is just the opposite: in the awareness that inside I, like most of us, feel rather afraid. And that is where that puzzling phrase in the Lord’s prayer comes in, which in the rather misleading old version reads, “Lead us not into temptation. What the original means is “Do not put us to the decisive test.” We are not to relish the thought of some definitive test of courage. Rather, conscious of our human frailty we need to summon up spiritual resources to help us face whatever lies ahead.

What lies ahead might require moral rather than physical courage, and that can be even more testing. Someone may be physically brave but terrified of losing face with his or her peers. They may be willing to dive into a canal to save a drowning child but incapable of standing up to dishonest practises, or even more seriously, fundamental evils, like the Nazi ideology that poisoned Germany in the 1930s. On this Holocaust Memorial Day we bring to mind the terrible cost of that failure, whether it was then, or in the world today. But there were some brave people. A 16 year old farm boy in the Sudetenland wrote home to say

Dear Parents: I must give you bad news-I have been condemned to death, I and Gustave. We did not sign up for the SS. You wrote to me indeed that I should not join..Both of us would rather die that stain our consciences with such deeds of horror. I know what the SS has to do.

It is examples like that which are a spark of light in the darkness. But the best starting point, I think, is in an honest awareness that naturally we feel rather frightened and that we need to tap into those deeper resources that are within us; to look to that power beyond our own power.

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