In between the well-traveled path between my church office and my “satellite office” at Redeye Roasters coffee shop stands Hingham Cemetery. People here in town know it as a venerable, historic New England burial ground that dates to 1672. In it resides grave stones marking the final resting places of the original town fathers and mothers, two Massachusetts governors, some ancestors of Abraham Lincoln, and Sarah Derby, who founded the first coeducational school — Derby Academy — in the country.
In my frequent walks down Water Street in search of caffeine-assisted inspiration, I walk past a series of waist-high granite pillars delineating the cemetery’s side entrance. One day, I noticed a bright blue mug on one of the posts. I didn’t think much of it other than, “That’s an odd place to leave a coffee mug.” I mean, there’s no school bus stop so it wasn’t accidentally left by a sleep-deprived, distracted parent. And there are no unspoken rules against wandering around a cemetery while sipping a latte. But mostly I just noticed it and went on my way.
I spied it again the next day. And the day after that. Finally, my curiosity got the best of me and I decided to take a closer look. The mug had words on it, I noticed. An inspirational saying of sorts. It proclaimed in white letters, “Courage is not the absence of fear but the presence of faith.”
Now, I’m not big on bumper sticker theology. “Honk if you love Jesus” or Hallmark-inspired phrases that adorn pictures of fluffy clouds or Facebook posts about “blessings” masquerading as humble brags. But this unattributed quote (no, it’s not in the Bible) did make me think as I continued home.
It’s certainly true that courageous acts often come with a personal cost. To do the right thing in the face of opposition takes a brave heart. And facing one’s own fears does take courage. There’s a recognition that it takes a force beyond ourselves to persevere in trying circumstances. That’s where faith comes in. A recognition that we are not in this world alone and that faith in ourselves or our own abilities only goes so far.
For Christians, this faith is not a blind one. It’s not a faith that assumes everything will turn up roses in the end. It’s not a faith of denial but a faith that proclaims that even in the midst of life’s inevitable trials and tribulations, God, as made known through Jesus, is present with us at every step of the way.
My other thought was about the placement of this mug. It didn’t seem entirely random to me. That perhaps a grieving soul had placed it there because it was a message the person desperately needed to hear and incorporate into his or her life. Or perhaps someone had found a sense of peace and wanted to, in some small way, share it with a stranger.
Who knows? But the mug was there for a week and then it suddenly disappeared without a trace. Vital messages come in different forms — through other people and through circumstances and through events. Perhaps the message on this mug is speaking to you through this very article. Or maybe it was just a mug that got forgotten and was eventually remembered.
Either way, it is important to be receptive to the many messages that surround us in this life. Some are overt, some are subtle, but all are dependent upon keeping an open heart and mind.
— The Rev. Tim Schenck serves as Rector of the Episcopal Parish of St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, MA. Visit his blog “Clergy Confidential” at clergyconfidential.com or follow him on Twitter @FatherTim.