When I dare to be powerful – to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.
~ Audre Lorde (American Poet, Teacher and Activist. 1934-1992)
For only the third time in my Card of the Week, Strength comes to visit us.
The lion is a universally understood symbol of strength, majesty, and courage, appearing in the mythology of nearly every culture. In astrology, lions are associated with the zodiac sign of Leo and are symbols of the Sun.
The woman in the Rider-Waite-Smith card has been likened to a Vestal Virgin, tending the sacred flame. She is crowned with the cosmic lemniscate, the symbol of infinity and dominion. She knows that fire can be a fearful thing, if one does not understand it and pay attention.
Tending this potentially destructive force, so that it may be used for life-giving, not life-taking, requires grace and intelligence. She knows her power lies in understanding, not conflict; she controls by her acceptance — not by repression. She is unafraid, and calls this fire sacred. Hers is the gentle, courageous touch that tames, without breaking.
As long as we live, we are filled with powerful impulses for gratification: sex, power, pleasure, and aggression. Out of balance, we can be selfish, gluttonous, greedy, dangerous and destructive.
Repressing or fighting those desires is rarely successful and seldom brings us lasting peace. Naming them “sin” and “evil” is also deeply counterproductive, as the tattered Western history of shame, bloodshed, and domination surely attest. Such conflict is a fight against a basic part of our own nature, and is rooted in fear.
However, as we see from the gentle touch of the woman, love conquers fear. Her patience and compassion quiet the beast. Fear begets more fear and conflict, but true strength lies in having the courage to accept, forgive, and bless ourselves, in all of our parts.
In the U.S., the political dialogue appears to have devolved to scolding and religious bigotry. We have seen far too much focus on fear and accusations of “sin,” forgetting that our nation’s true strength has been rooted in a vision of tolerance, justice, and liberty for all. Embracing our diversity is power, not weakness.
Many Christians are now celebrating the season of Lent, in which they make a sacrifice, giving up something they enjoy, or else shouldering an unaccustomed responsibility as a gift of themselves to the Divine. Such worthy acts can be difficult, as anyone who has tried to break a long-time habit can tell you.
But Strength offers its help to all such actions, as well as other choices that demand stepping up in new, possibly uncomfortable ways.
Strength is that which enables us to overcome difficulty, persevere through obstacles, and embrace those people, ideas, or experiences that connect us to the astonishing joy of living in our “sweet animal bodies,” as poet Mary Oliver describes it.
In the coming week, your courage may be tested. People speak of conquering their demons, but the Strength card shows a more successful strategy: we can overcome our fears by being centered in our own love for life. Focusing on what we love is what inspires, feeds, and protects us. Love helps us discern what matters and what doesn’t.
This week, how might you long to express your wild side and your passionate affections? After much struggle, what risks are you at last ready to take for the things (and people) you love? In what ways are you being asked to stretch out your hand past your fears, to offer kindness and acceptance?
Now we are invited to gaze without fear, but infinite fortitude and forgiveness, upon our shadows. This is the only way we can hope to “tame” them.
The world needs passionate, committed people who are willing to take action, no matter what the risk. With full awareness and compassion for our fears and foibles, Strength calls for us to embrace life, and serve our most noble vision.