During these hot, hot days of summer, I am needing to listen to the sacred words that call me to “Weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15 ) It’s always been easy to “Rejoice with those who rejoice;” everyone likes a celebration. But in my life this is not a festival moment; it is a time of mourning:
- yesterday the husband of a friend died after struggling for months
- another friend was diagnosed with an aggressive and rapid disease
- others are in treatment over a long haul to stem the progression of invasive illnesses
- two long-time partners have hurt each other and their connection is in peril
- families across borders have been torn asunder by political and economic forces that are tone deaf to human spirit and blind to the image of God in each living person
- communities around the world, so many in my state, are trying to dig out, rebuild, re-imagine life after disaster–fire and flood, seeking to discern what is irretrievably lost and what can be held on to
- faith communities are redesigning themselves, morphing into new modes and mediums which seem to promise new life, yet, of necessity leave some faithful people as collateral damage in their wake
All of these particularities are unfolding in a landscape which for some seem like a strange land at best, a place where the call is to sit down by the river and weep.
Weeping is a holy spiritual practice, I believe. I observe it more internally than with actual salt tears. Yet my heart is attuned to those in real time tears. I have pondered how to weep with them. Many are far away, many need to focus on their task of getting through each day. How can I express my care, concern and solidarity?
I am musing on a few practices that I can use to “weep” as other weep:
- I can express my sorrow in a way that recognizes that the grief belongs to them, not to me, and express it sparely, authentically, not in a way that leaves them needing to care for me grief.
- I can send messages of affirmations and support–texts, e-mails, cards, phone messages–all saying that I care for them, and am holding them to the Light.
- I can visit–face to face or electronically–if that is welcome.
- I can pray that the Holy One would bring wholeness and healing, and ask that others who pray do the same.
- For the wounds of the world, I can do what I can to send money to agencies who have the resources to heal, rebuild and change hearts and minds. I can let my own voice be heard in petition and voting booth.
In whatever I do, I need to remain clear that sorrow is not the only word or the last word for us. The Psalmist tells us “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:5b). I often notice that a time for weeping and a time for rejoicing appear together, and I want to give each one its due. But for me, for those I love, for the world, I want to practice weeping as a passage for while, in order to clear the way for the hope of life and healing on the other side.
A voice of joy! Advent began with a voice on one crying…in a wilderness! And we take a turn into the season with a voice of joy! I am relying heavily on joyful voices in this season, Music and words combine to life my spirit above the oppressive sounds of so much that is being given attention.
So I have heard Joy in the voice of children in productions of “Beauty and the Beast.” I have heard Joy in concerts downtown at Disney Hall, first all of the Bach motets, then the voices of Chanticleer. My Facebook community supplies me amply with music of Joy of many kinds–country western, early Renaissance, piano and cello, hundred voice choirs, a capella ensembles. On Christmas Eve by candlelight, we heard in variegated voices the story of the birth of Jesus into this world and what it means; it led us to stand and sing together “Joy to the World.”
And then we were stunned at dawn to get a familiar voice on our phone on Christmas morning telling us to go look on our front porch–and there to our shock and surprise was our complete Florida family awaiting to say Merry Christmas and to feed and love us, through this festival week. It has been followed with singular voices of Joy: laughter of cousins, hilarious remembering between siblings, excited regaling with new experiences, eager recitation of encounters with something special–all Joy! Certainly the we have shared the Joy of Christmas with enthusiastic voices this season.
I am convinced that I am to bring a voice of Joy into the new year. It is counter-intuitive if I become saturated with the voices of the world around us–news, op-ed pieces, and Cassandra like predictions of the doom to come. However, the voice of those who are seeking Spirit and intending to live with its energy are filled with hope, perseverance, compassion and imagination because of what we are celebrating this Christmastide. Those are the choruses of which I would like to be a part. I anticipate with expectation the anthems of those who are joining their journey of Spirit with their intention to be part of the healing of the world, whether in political demonstration and action, or in service to those without resources or agency. I align my heart and voice with those who croon softly to the person in pain and despair, or to the ones who feels as if there is no place to call home. I accept the lowering registers of my own voice to calibrate it to the song I have been given to sing for now: God is here, does not leave us, nor can anything separate us from Divine Presence and Care. There is Joy in all!
Good Christian souls, rejoice! with heart and soul and voice…
In this New Year I am adding my voice to the band of angels and saints who hear and care for the voices crying in the wilderness, and then go on to bring a more hopeful, Joyful song of “Peace on earth, good will to all!”
I just celebrated a Big Birthday! Somewhere in my lists of oughts and shoulds, I had been imagining that I would have a new Mission Statement with clear aims and goals for this occasion and part of my life. Instead, I was traveling for fun, coming out of an intense period of focused care-giving and attending to both daily and cosmic need. My heart and mind were muddled rather than at peace. I was delighted to be away from the daily bombardment of news of disarray and sadness, and so it was a journey toward tranquility that took us on a drive up the St. Lawrence River out of Quebec City, devouring and savoring the beauty of the fall colors just beginning to turn.
Our first stop was the cathedral of St. Anne de Beaupre. The entire edifice is dedicated to Anne, in legend the mother of Mary, mother of Jesus, and was beautiful in every way–color, light, design. It was for us truly a sacred space. However, the great gift to me amidst the physical beauty was the inscription over the large statue of Anne, declaring: That my joy may be in you. The same inscription in French oversaw the pulpit on the opposite side. I was stopped in wonder, love and praise. I wondered when and how often I has been in a worship space, a worship community, that invited me to be in Joy. I have seen many other churches and cathedrals that have invited me to stillness, to awe, to reverence, but I could not remember such an explicit invitation to Joy.
As the journey continued, both inside and out, I became aware that the Joy comes, not in big pronouncements or agendas, even Vision Statement, but it comes in the attention to the graces and invitations that were offered to me each day. Some were sheer beauty–fields of canola and leaves turning read and yellow and purple. Some came in laughter over new discoveries and shared amazement. Some came in questions raised by what we saw in museums, on sidewalks, and river fronts. And some came in knowing my body well enough to be able to say, “I have taken in all I can accommodate today.”
It brought to mind a quotation from Marvin Hiles that I have carried around for many years: To live sweetly in the bitter days, to shape beauty among the grotesque, to exult in the littles, and to declare in the midst of brokenness a wholeness that comes now and ultimately. God’s joy in me in the daily, in the moment and in the long haul.
As I journeyed home from my trip to Canada, I found that graces and invitations were all around–a Taize service that centered me, a planning meeting that energized (!), the joining of two friends of mine who had not known each other previously in a justice project, opportunities to walk with love ones in distress. Not always joy, not always happiness, but Joy.
This week, as if to add an exclamation to my findings, these words came from Celtic Daily Prayer II, by Andy Raine: These are the days for noticing the small things, establishing trust and saying things that need no words. In the miasma and stench of rhetoric in the public sphere these days, I am cheered by the prospect of an alternative narrative, one that allows for and leads to Joy, and even invites me to be a bringer of the Joy of the Holy that is in me!
Words and sight prompting me to joy are everywhere around me! In the ear of my heart I hear the poetry of Anne Sexton:
There is joy/ in all…
and she catalogues all the elements of her morning kitchen and spirit ritual which delight and inspire her. On my recent family trip when I had solitary moments, I too was able to take joy in where I was–the ocean view, the little Mexican icon in the garden, the cool water, the air conditioner, the fresh coffee, the fountain of live turtles who basked or swam back and forth, the ample time to listen to what i was reading, to reflect, ponder and wrestle with a writer from another location, re-framing questions I seem to be always asking. There is joy in all!
And joy came bursting in the door with each grandchild or grownup as they told their stories of adventure–underwater, around the coral reef, at the ruins, with iguanas, on the back of gold carts, or shopping for chess sets. Each person had a particular way of spinning a narrative, choosing syntax framed with gestures and facial expressions that were illuminating and delightful. And there was laughter and drama and amplification that made my heart spill over with wonder and gratitude. There is joy in all!
It has been more challenging to see the joy is all on my re-entry! There is a calendar of appointments, a list of fix-its, a catalogue of do’s and don’ts, always hanging around each day. And then, when my “plan” is firmly in place, something intrudes, what Rumi calls a “visitor” to be welcomed–a phone call, a knock on the door, a letter of surprise. And the Plan gets jettisoned. So I have been “listening” to Fra Giovanni, 15th C. Italian artist and thinker:
The gloom of the world but a shadow; behind it, yet within our reach is joy. Take Joy!
When a neighbor needs a ride or a groceries, I can take joy in knowing she is well fed and safe. When someone needs a consultation on a knotty problem, I can take joy in knowing that all those years of education and life experience are still being put to use. When calamity or catastrophe befalls a loved one, I can take joy is knowing that there are ways for me to help and that there is Wisdom to direct me to what those ways are. There is joy in all!
Henri Nouwen tells me, “Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.” That’s what I am choosing to do. That choice does not mean that I fail to notice the terrible grief in the world, the terror of those displaced and abused, the pain of those with unrelenting illness, the violence of arrogant and tone deaf leaders. But, a choice to Take Joy reminds me that those things are not the only realities in the world. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot put it out. (John 1).
So in this second half of the year I am committed to taking joy every day and in every way, wherever I can, so that as I work and pray for the wholeness of the world, for the healing of those who suffer, for the power to overcome injustice, malice and cruelty, I can see behind the shadows, the joy that comes with the Light that will shine and not be put out. I commit myself to looking for and celebrating the Joy that is in all…and sharing it!
I have been committed to a practice of bring grateful for a long time time now. Karl Barth tells me, “Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.” I am Taking Joy!
All summer I have been sending traveling mercies to my friends on the move. Today I pray for traveling mercies for my own moving and wandering:
I pray for peace for this anxious traveler, who worries about connections, forgotten items, anticipated glitches. Breathe your peace into my body, mind and spirit.
I pray for those who make it possible for me to travel, pilots. attendants, agents and greeters and innkeepers. May each of them have what they need to do their jobs with skill and heart.
I pray that I will embody a patient and merciful spirit with systems that have the capacity to break down, delay and confound. Help me to be one who brings compassion and tranquility to any chaotic kerfuffle that breaks out.
I pray for those I love with whom I will abide and celebrate, each with a unique and particular personality and set of needs and wants. I pray for the Spirit to make us a peaceable realm as we hang out together for these days, not just tolerating each other, but learning to love more dearly, with exciting discoveries, deep appreciation and lots of laughter and delight.
I pray that even though I will be a visiting tourist, I will also be able to see those in the area we visit with gentle and welcoming eyes and ears, that I may treat each person with respect and honor while I am given hospitality.
I pray that my heart, body and mind will be open to seeing things I have never witnessed before with curiosity and interest, with great gratitude for the variety in the world that the Holy has made and in which we live.
I pray, most of all, that I take Joy from the Creator in each moment of living, loving, laughing, learning, trusting that the Joy of the Holy is my strength whether I am at work or at play.
I am resting in Traveling Mercies!
Even though the Lenten journey is a serious one, leading to an intense Holy Week, I am also looking for signs and symbols that point me to hope along the way. Because Lent and Easter are so late in the calendar year this year, the days are accompanied by the signs of spring, even in our supposedly “season-less” Southern California.
My irises in the drought resistant garden are thriving, especially with the unusual rainfall. There has been a constant parade of beautiful blooms beginning in Advent (white) and continuing on with Lent, all purple, four come and gone, four to about to burst forth. The liquid amber tree and the fig tree next door have tender green leaves and shoots multiplying each day. The ornamental plum tree and the peach tree are showing their tiny flowers. All of them remind me that after the winter, after rain, after the Great Grayness there is Hope. The Creator has made each thing beautiful in its own time.
Another sign of hope has been discoveries of missing things. In my clearing out and de-cluttering, I have found things that I believed to have vanished–some pairs of socks, a quotation that I had written out on a card with decoration, some pairs of old shoes. I am reminded, even in the simple nature of the retrievals, that with the Holy One, nothing is lost, there are no final defeats. Hope can spring up.
Some signs locate me. Some creative people in the neighborhood painted the power boxes on many corners with folk art, reminding us of who we are, where we are, a gathering of people from many nations, places and beginnings. And we are people who in proximity to the freeway are people on the go, working, traveling, walking the dog. It is important to me as I journey, not to forget where I am grounded, where I am heading and whence I have come.
In the providential movement of this season, I have been engrossed by three memoirs, chosen without intentional theme, that have reflected to me a part of my beginnings that still shape me, but from which I have moved. Each writer comes from a different place than I have geographically, and each one is younger, but we have in common a shared religious heritage that gave us great gifts and enormous challenges. As I watch and listen to each voice, I am filled with hope. Thought there have been moments of pain, or disorientation, of wandering without a map, each woman has found her spiritual center, her place of belonging and her traveling mercies. I have found joyful hope in locating myself at points on each journey, and sharing moment of Grace.
I am finding that Lent is not only solemn and gray, but is also alive with reminders that Light and Darkness together are part of our human pilgrimage. This year it is profoundly important for me to remember that here on earth, although there is tremendous grief and suffering, there is also the whimsy, laughter, cheer, surprise of hope that manifests itself, sometimes daily–in the smile of the server, the grace of the responsive leader, the compassion of the helper, the delight of the discoverer, the unfettered laughter of old friends, remembering the way we were, and how it is Grace that has led us safely this far. I have taken on as a Lenten practice to look for those signs.
I am reminded of an old Brian Andreas drawing in which the angel appears to him in tights, he laughs and then knows that when signs appear, if there is no laughter in them, they are not for him. Nor are they for me. And neither are they for me if there is no Grace, no Joy, no Hope. On our way through Holy Week I am like the faithful one singing Psalm 126 of Ascent: ..our mouths were filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy…the Lord has done great things for us, as well as small ones, in tiny but unmistakable signs. In Lent, I can rejoice.
Anne Sexton proclaims that there is Joy in all! What more evidence can there be than the blossoming of five irises, with at least five to come amid the long-desired rainfall that appeared in these last days of Advent! Christmas comes replete with tidings of comfort and Joy in the arrival of the Baby Jesus, who at this celebrated moment is only a hope, a possibility and a dream! And I have done all that I can, both to make my beloved ones comfortable and Joyful, and to enter into the Joy myself, sometimes with mixed success. Yet the signs of Hope throughout Advent have kept pushing me to stay awake to the places and ways which, in the words of C, S. Lewis, “…cheerfulness keeps breaking in!”
The signs and the blooms of Joy on this day are everywhere–children singing loudly, even on key, the old Christmas carols with open hearts and wide eyes; thoughtful and prophetic pastors who don’t settle for the same old/same old messages and routine; caring friends who acknowledge my limitations this year, and come round in message or person anyway; posts from those who are feeding the hungry, expanding their giving on behalf of the vulnerable, writing and marching for both justice and mercy for the little ones.
Yet, many among my acquaintances want to make sure that I know that there are many for whom Joy is not readily accessible, and I am deeply aware of that. Hospitalizations, freak accidents, sudden losses, fractures of personal connections that can’t seem to heal, all make Joy a slippery commodity. And the “weary world!” Good grief! what can we say to the callousness, the arrogance, the brutality and the self-absorption that makes up the Slough of Despond through which we are muddling these days!
I submit once again the Joy–the Joy that is heralded by the angels–is not connected to the era in which we live, the location we inhabit, our status within or without families, even our body’s frailty. It is a gift from the Holy One, reflecting that above, around and through all we are created by God. The write of the Psalms remind us that in Holy Presence is fullness of Joy (Psalm 16:11). Two themes go throughout sacred testament–1) Joy is gift of God, even as it was when Christ was born, and 2) humans have the capacity to choose it, even when they are in dire straits and unhappy. I cannot choose for anyone else, but I can make it my aim in my quest to keep the Light shining to choose joy. Karl Barth says, ” Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.”
And so on this Christmas Day I again commit myself to choosing and practicing Joy–in the healing process my body is in, in the disappointment in what people do and don’t do, among the miasma of doomsday prognosticators–Joy because in Holy Presence is fullness of joy, and Christmas comes to tell me that the Christ will never leave or forsake. That belief and ground in Joy is what keeps me centered when I am called to lobby for mercy for the poor, to protest injustice for the displaced, to advocate for those who do not have the privilege I have as a white, heterosexual person with education. .
Joy to the world…God has come and given me power to share and spread that Joy!
So much of the Great Grayness that we are living through is covered with noise and disconnection. We read of or hear people screaming, horns blasting, helicopters hovering, sirens klaxoning all through our roads and towns. I long for peaceful silence, and yet there is a hopeful lilt in the atmosphere when I hear beautiful harmony. It is in the old carol’s words, “heavenly music (that) floats o’er all the weary world.”
It grounds me in the promise of Hebrew Scripture that there will come a day with a new heaven and a new earth, where the wolf and the lamb shall feed together and the lion shall eat straw like the ox (Isaiah 65: 17, 25). Things will fit together and make beautiful music together. Most Sunday mornings as soon as I wake, I tune into our local classical music station to the offering called “Soul Music.” For three hours I drink in choral music, primarily sacred, sung to ancient texts of Hebrew and Christian Scripture. Some of it is sung in languages other than my own; some of it offers plangent chords and melodies which cover the words. But the bringing together of the voices themselves–four part, madrigal, chant, echoes–all remind me of the promised dream: Peace on earth and good will to all people.
I practice feeding that dream all during Advent and Christmas. This year so far I have heard Eric Whitacre conduct a holiday concert in the downtown Disney Hall, blending old Christmas songs with his modern compositions. I have heard our church choir sing one of Bach’s less known cantatas, “For Unto Us a Child in Born,” expressing words of hope and trust. In our small group of friends who have gathered for 20 years, as we reflected on this past year and anticipated turning into the new year , we sang in the half-light, “O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer our spirits by thine advent here…” Then we sang, “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel,” words from the 9th C. Latin, hoping, looking, trusting, as we are trying to do. And the harmonies reassure me that it is all true!
In my conversations in these days, which can so readily turn to despair and bleakness, I listen for the harmonies can keep me hopeful. There is a family widely divergent in their politics whose members treat each other with love and respect. There is a man who has given himself to caring for an aging family member, as he volunteers at his church for the jobs that no one else does. There is a church who provides a community dinner every Sunday night all year long for the seasonal workers who come through the town. There is a community of educators who unanimously vote to safeguard its students who are at risk of deportation. There is a church who goes out on a limb to bring justice and mercy for those who are at risk in the neighborhood.
My call as the music in me and around me brings harmony to the world is to be one of the voices that fills in the chords, that supports the ostinato beneath the solo, that helps the chorus swell with joy as the Light appears, or even as the Hope of it soothes my heart. I sense I want to be one of the angels that the carol sings about and let the Hope in harmony fill me:
And you beneath life’s crushing load, whose forms are bending low,/ who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow,/ look now for glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing:/ O rest beside the weary road, and hear the angels sing. (It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, Sears.)
The illustration is taken from “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
In these Dog Days of August replete with politics, athletics, wild weather (too hot, too many fires, too wet) and the shrillness of uncensored opinion about everything, I am looking to those sources of Grace that keep me centered, grounded, even in Joy! I know that much of my theology, much of my heart, much of joy lies in the songs that have accompanied me from the cradle, and will continue to do so as long as I love. I am sure that in these days of distress all round us, I need to keep close to this source of Spirit and healing from the Holy.
Music was a language into which I was born, primarily sacred music as sung by the communities in which I was nurtured. My family worshiped together in daily prayers, and all of us learned to sing in harmony, as we sang through the Inter-Varsity hymnal year after year. I played the piano in accompaniment. But while I was a seminary intern, I heard for the first time a melody with words that took root in my spirit, and continues to cheer, heal and haunt me. It is a 19th Century hymn attributed to Baptist pastor Robert Lowry. I was preaching one of my first sermons on the prophet Deborah, someone up against military threats, sexism and difficult odds. When she emerges from all the “tumult and the strife,” the next chapter in the book of Judges ascribes a full length song of celebration to her. After I preached, without introduction, a winsome young soprano soloist friend sang a capella from the balcony these words (not Deborah’s):
My life flows on in endless song above earth’s lamentation/ I hear the clear, though far off hymn that hails a new creation./ No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that Rock I’m clinging./Since Love is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?
The following verses sing about darkness, tyrants, prison cells, yet a clear deep sense that Love wins, and that alone is the prompt and cue for singing. Augustine has told us, that the one who sings prays twice, and so I am doubling my prayers through song this month–prayers for peace, for comfort, for hope, for healing, for resolution, for vision for energy and action; prayers of gratitude and praise, delight and laughter.
I include a youtube version of the late Jean Redpath singing this song on Prairie Home Companion; she surely could not keep from singing. I plan to follow her example!