Courage of the Heart

Courage of the Heart
Led by Rev. Ellen Quaadgras
October 8, 2017



Welcome & Announcements:       


Good morning, my name is Ellen Quaadgras, I am the minister here at Westminster  and I’d like to welcome all of you to our service today where our theme this month, is courage.


Our cards this month

Today, we take some time to reflect: What is courage, really? Where or how do we find it? How can we learn to live, more and more, with courage at the center?




If you haven’t already, please silence any electronic devices.

It’s good to see all of you here with us this morning.

Let us now begin our worship service with the prelude.




Opening Words

There is no other day
No other hour
No other people
No other life
Everything we need
is here.
All the pieces
the possibilities,
The ideas
and the partners –
No saints, or heroes required
No perfect plans
or clear instructions
Only the will,
the willingness to laugh,
the willing heart,
the heart filled with wonder –
Only the stumbling,
the forgiving,
the showing up
Sometimes just the showing up
These ingredients for joy
For healing,
for change
They are all here,
And here is enough
We are are enough
For praise
And thanksgiving
Come, let us worship together


*Hymn:  #300 with Heart and Mind


*Unison Affirmation:     

Love is the spirit of this church

and service its law.

This is our great covenant:

To dwell together in peace,

To seek the truth in love,

and to help one another.


Chalice Lighting: 

Reader 1:

The word courage comes from the Latin cor, which means heart. The original use of the word courage meant to stand by one’s core: a reminder… that living from the Center is what enables us to face whatever life has to offer.”


Reader 2:

To “encourage” means to hearten; to impart strength and confidence. This is our work, as a religious community: to encourage one another; to give one another the confidence and heart to live as fully as possible.



With full hearts,

we affirm our relationships with one another;

we recognize our agency and our connective power;

and we recognize our responsibility to be bold and courageous.

We light this chalice,

symbol of all that we are, all that we have done together,

and all that we might [bravely become.]


Candles of Joys, Sorrows, and Concerns    

We share our lives with one another in many ways and during joys sorrows and concerns we create time for any who would like, to speak about a joy or sorrow that is in you, today. It is a time to share briefly about meaningful, personal, sadness or happiness in your life or the life of someone you care about. Anyone is welcome to participate in this time.


If you would like to light a silent candle, feel free to do so during our song in response or offertory.


For those who would like to share, we will begin with joys. Please come forward, say your name into the microphone and express what is on your heart in a sentence or two.




Let us gather our hearts and minds in a spirit of prayer and meditation

Pastoral Prayer 

Spirit of Life and Love, known by many names and yet fully known by none,


we give thanks for this time and this place of renewal.


We give thanks for the ability to begin again: after disaster, after tragedy, after loss, after meeting whatever challenges have been set before us.


Grant us the courage to continue on the journey, the courage to speak up for the well being of others,  ourselves, and [our world].


Grant us hearts to love boldly, to embody our faith and our values in living words and deeds.


May we forgive ourselves and each other when our courage falls short, and may we try again.


May our hearts open to embrace humility, grace, and reconciliation.


Grant us the ability to learn and grow, to let the Spirit of Love and Truth work its transformation upon us and within us.


Grant us the spirit of hospitality, the willingness to sustain a fit dwelling place for the holy that resides in all being.


Grant us a sense of being at peace in the world, even as [it sometimes feels so elusive].


Let us cultivate together the strength to welcome every kind of gift and all manner of ways to be on this journey together.


Let us take a few moments now for silent reflection, meditation, or  prayer.


Silent Meditation      


Song in Response: #1009 When I Breathe In



Far too often, we are forced to confront the terrible things that people can do. When these things happen, all we can do is come together in places like this church to remind ourselves that there is still hope; there is still love; there are still good-hearted people who can look unblinking into the storm and continue to believe a calm, bright morning will come.

This community is a refuge where we can keep the ember of hope alive when the world seems intent on dousing it. And then we can use our little ember to light a beacon for the rest of the world.

Our offerings each week sustain this community so we can share our small embers to light a dark world. Please give generously so that we can all, together, help spread that light.

Offerings in cash placed in the basket are shared 50/50 with a different charity each month.  The charity for October  is Offerings in cash placed in the basket are shared 50/50 with a different charity each month.  The charity for October is Direct Relief. Direct Relief is a humanitarian aid organization, with a mission to improve the health and lives of people affected by poverty or emergencies. Direct Relief is now providing targeted assistance to respond to emergencies in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.


The other half of the offering goes to support the life and works of this congregation.


The offering will now be given and gratefully received.




Reading: Brene Brown:


“I always ask a very simple question to people. I just say, think of the last time you did something that you thought was really brave or the last time you saw someone do something really brave. And I can tell you as a researcher — 11,000 pieces of data — I cannot find a single example of courage, moral courage, spiritual courage, leadership courage, relational courage, I cannot find a single example of courage that was not born completely of vulnerability. We buy into some mythology about vulnerability being weakness and being gullibility and being frailty because it gives us permission not to do it.”




Reading I will not die an unlived life

I will not live in fear

of falling or catching fire.

I choose to inhabit my days,

to allow my living to open me,

to make me less afraid,

more accessible,

to loosen my heart

until it becomes a wing,

a torch, a promise.

I choose to risk my significance;

to live so that which came to me as seed

goes to the next as blossom

and that which came to me as blossom,

goes on as fruit.

— by Dawna Markova



Hymn #396 I know this rose will open





“There’s a man by the name of Captain William Swenson who was recently awarded the congressional Medal of Honor for his actions on September 8, 2009.


On that day, a column of American and Afghan troops were making their way through a part of Afghanistan to help protect a group of […] Afghan government officials,who would be meeting with some local village elders. The column came under ambush, and was surrounded on three sides, and amongst many other things, Captain Swenson was recognized for running into live fire to rescue the wounded and pull out the dead. One of the people he rescued was a sergeant, and he and a comrade were making their way to a medevac helicopter with him.


And what was remarkable about this day is, by sheer coincidence, one of the medevac medics happened to have a GoPro camera on his helmet and captured the whole scene on camera, [unknown to Captain Swenson]. It shows [him] and his comrade bringing [in] this wounded soldier who had received a gunshot to the neck. They put him in the helicopter, and then you see Captain Swenson bend over and give him a kiss before he turns around to rescue more.”


That story is from a TED talk on leadership by Simon Sinek and it grabbed me immediately when I heard it last month. That image of this captain, under fire, exposed, at risk, even as he rescues his comrade, who is wounded, in peril, susceptible. Two soldiers, hardened and tough, and both, in that moment, totally vulnerable. Pretense stripped away, living from just their core.  A picture of courage, straight from the heart.


And I was taken by that image because it is a reminder of the stark reality of our common human vulnerability, how fragile we are and can be. We forget, sometimes, how thin the line is.


We forget until we are reminded. Like the stark reminder we received this week. Like the onslaught of reminders in recent months from our weather and our earth and violence around the world. It’s hard to miss the evidence of our vulnerability, these days. We are surrounded by it.




I posted the service description for today on facebook on Monday, with the quote you see on the cover of your order of service.


“Here is the world,” Fredrick Buechner wrote. “Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Do not be afraid.”


Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Do… not… be… afraid…


A woman, right underneath my post, offered a response to that beseeching call that seemed to come right from the gut. Be afraid. She wrote, be very afraid.


I suspect she is not the only one feeling that way right now.


Fearful, frightened, overwhelmed, helpless.


Or maybe you’re feeling angry. Or frustrated. Or maybe you’re not sure how you’re are feeling. Sometimes, when there’s too much coming in, the emotional systems shut down. We go a little numb. We block it off, and distance ourselves.


But then, it just sits there.


Blocking you off from life, from your connection to others, like a big boulder of leftover angst that tells us don’t do this, you might get hurt. Don’t do that it might be dangerous. Or, it tells you it doesn’t matter, that it’s so far away, it’s bad but it’s not about you and you have a lot to do.


What do we do with our fear, whatever form it takes? Where can we find our courage?


In a blog post I read this week, UCC minister Katherine Willis Pershey reflects on that same Buechner quote about beautiful and terrible things. And that last phrase of it: “Do not be afraid,” she notes, “is a quote within a quote.”


“Buechner echoes the words whispered to terrified souls throughout holy scripture. Do not be afraid, God says to Abraham, to Hagar, to Joseph, to Moses. Do not be afraid, Moses says to the Hebrew people. Do not be afraid, the angel says to Zecharaiah, to Mary, to Joseph. Do not be afraid, Jesus says to his disciples – more times than you can count on both hands.”

“I love that Buechner quote,” she continues, “but I also despise it. I love the promise that beautiful things will happen. I hate the reminder that terrible things will happen.”


“If it were up to me” she says, “it would go like this: Here is the world. Nothing bad will ever happen to you. Do not be afraid.”


“That makes more sense, right? That the reason we need not fear is because there’s nothing to be afraid of.”


But that’s not what Buechner is saying. That’s not what the bible is saying.


And that’s not how things are.


The raw truth is, bad things happen, people get hurt. There’s plenty to be afraid of. We are vulnerable, we humans.


It’s part of the nature of things.


But it’s not the whole picture.


It’s not the whole picture because it’s that very vulnerability, that built in defenselessness, that is a doorway to the heart


Sometimes, that very vulnerability is what connects us to each other.


That very vulnerability is the birthplace of [certain kind of] courage.


I have a conviction, that underneath it all, when we’re not lost in fear or anger, or lost in avoiding fear, what’s left is all heart. When we dissolve the countless defenses we’ve built against life and each other we find our core. You can catch glimpses of it, in devastating circumstances, and it’s contagious.


Maybe you heard the story on the news – about the first responders digging out children from their collapsed school building in Mexico city, regularly asking everyone to be quiet so they might hear them in the rubble. I picture those rescuers, covered in dirt and debris, risking their lives as buildings might collapse further, and I picture hundreds of people all holding their breath, silent, silent so that they might aid in finding those little children.


Or all the people, who took their own boats and their own lives in hand, to rescue others in the Houston floods.


Or the lines and lines and lines of people poised to give blood after the terror in Las Vegas. Some arriving as early as 2am.


I don’t want to make this sound romantic or cliché, because there is nothing romantic about the kind of violence and devastation we have witnessed. There is nothing redeeming about unnecessary suffering. We need to continue to do everything we can to prevent senseless violence, to fight climate change, to right the wrongs of racism, to return our society and our earth to balance and health.


But there is something about recognizing our mutual vulnerability – that gives us access to our heart, something about a certain urgency that cuts through defenses and gets us to just do what needs doing even at risk to ourselves.


[long pause]


Most of us, most of the time, are not in Afghanistan under ambush. Most of us, most of the time, are not subject to tragedy involving automatic weapons of whatever kind. Most of us most of the time, are not in the path of a hurricane or caught in an earthquake. Thank God.


For most of us, most of the time, stepping into situations that feel vulnerable, is a choice, every day. Courage is a choice, every day.


It’s a choice, to get out of bed, and do the things you have to do, even though the world feels a little less safe today.


It’s a choice to stay open to the incredible beauty of this world knowing, knowing that terrible things do happen, will happen.


It’s a choice to not go numb. But instead to stay open, willing to be vulnerable, allowing the world to have access to us, so we can have access to it.


[Long pause]


It’s a choice made more difficult because we confuse, sometimes, numbness with courage.


We confuse, sometimes, courage with being, or at least appearing invulnerable.


And it’s an important to recognize that it’s a confusion, because a sense of invulnerability can feel like courage. In fact, in our public lore, we hold up the steely ones. The cool ones, the tough ones. The hero who grunts with an emotionless expression.


And being “tough” like that can feel good in a certain way: strong, powerful.


But it lacks something. It lacks depth, it lacks connection. It lacks the fullness of your humanity.


There was a study, done in the 1970’s, recounted here by Rev. Shawn Newton.


Stanley Rachman, a professor at the University of British Columbia studied both the physiology and behaviour of paratroopers as they prepared for their first parachute jump.1 He found that they divided into basically three groups:


There were those who were unnaturally fearless, people “who displayed scant signs of the racing heart, sweaty palms, [a] spike in blood pressure and other fight-or-flight responses [typically] associated with ordinary fear.”


These guys “jumped without hesitation.” They were fearless.


Then there were the handwringers, “whose powerful fear response at the critical moment kept them from jumping” at all. There was nothing that could make them hurl themselves out the hatch.


And, finally, there were the ones who “reacted physiologically like the handwringers but who acted like the fearless leapers.” They were able to fling themselves from the plane, even though there were absolutely terrified.


These were the ones Dr. Rachman called courageous.


The first group – they leapt, but they didn’t feel.  They were disconnected from their experience.


The second group felt but didn’t leap. They didn’t have an experience.


The last group – they stayed open, allowing their minds and bodies to take in the full reality of their situation, their vulnerability, while at the same time not letting that stop them from taking the action they felt called to take.


They felt the fear, and did it anyway.


I don’t know the followup to that story but I wouldn’t be surprised if you would find the lives of that last group, quite different from those of the other two.


Because the kind of courage they displayed in that one, jarring situation, that willingness to feel their feelings without letting it stop them, that is exactly the kind of courage that is needed to live from the heart, day to day.


Our hearts are a tool that can see and understand things the mind alone cannot. And for the complex challenges in our extraordinary world or our ordinary lives we need all systems engaged.


In her book, Daring to be Great, Brene Brown whose quote we heard earlier, gives some examples of these kinds of ordinary challenges that require vulnerability.


She’d asked people to complete the sentence, “vulnerability is: ________ “


Here are some of the replies:

• Standing up for myself
• Asking for help
• Saying no
• Starting my own business
• Calling a friend whose child just died
• Saying “I love you” first
• Getting pregnant after three miscarriages
• Waiting for the biopsy to come back
• Admitting I’m afraid
• Being accountable
• Asking for forgiveness
• Having faith.


All of which, all of which are situations that require courage. All of which require an open heart.


And then she asked – okay so what does it feel like, that vulnerability – what does it look like, inside you, what do you experience?

  • Sweaty palms and a racing heart
    • Scary and exciting; terrifying and hopeful
    • A lump in your throat and a knot in your chest.
    • The terrifying point on a roller coaster when you’re about to tip over the edge and take the plunge.
  • Panic, anxiety, fear, and hysteria, followed by freedom, pride, and amazement—then a little more panic.
    • Freedom and liberation.


Ordinary courage. Ordinary terror. Ordinary liberation, ordinary amazement, available to every one of us. Every day.


Do not be afraid the bible tells us, more times than we can count on both hands. Far more times.


Do not be afraid Fredrick Buechner urges us, no matter what.


Or perhaps more accurately, allow yourself to be afraid, to be vulnerable, feel the terror, allow it to touch you and move you and open you…


But do not let it stop you.


I will not die an unlived life,  by Dawna Markova writes,

I will not live in fear

of falling or catching fire.

I choose to inhabit my days,

to allow my living to open me,

to make me less afraid,

more accessible,

to loosen my heart

until it becomes a wing,

a torch, a promise.



Closing hymn: We will close with a different hymn from the one in your order of service – let us join together in hymn number 108 My life flows on in endless song.


Closing words:


Adapted from words by Eric Williams:

The world is too beautiful to be praised by only one voice.

So may we have the courage to sing your part.

The world is too broken to be healed by only one set of hands.

So may we have the courage to use your gifts.


By Wayne B Arnason

Take courage friends.
The way is often hard, the path is never clear,
and the stakes are very high.
Take courage.
For deep down, there is another truth:
you are not alone.




*Carry the Flame of Peace and Love Until We Meet Again