This morning I heard these words spoken out loud.
Not once, but several times.
Some of them said our loud over and over again.
A place for all.
Loved…as in I am and you are.
Church (or another place to worship) may not be for everyone.
I know all too well how judgmental and insular and narrow churches can be.
But for me, one of the things I value about the church I attend is the language.
Words I don’t hear anywhere else.
Said out loud.
Words which stand counter to so much of what we hear
In the news.
And, on our social media feeds.
And, in the midst of our daily round.
Words which remind me and challenge me and turn me towards what I desire and hope for.
Not just for myself.
But for us and for all.
The word joy gets more air time than usual this time of year.
On Christmas greetings sent back and forth.
Joy to the World sung by congregations and choirs.
With Advent candles lit in churches and in homes.
Whenever I hear or read the word joy I am reminded of the observation by Thomas Merton.
A quote I have carried with me and pondered for many years.
“[We] were not created for happiness, but for joy. If we do not yet know the difference we have not yet begun to live.”
After hearing the word joy several times this morning in the worship service I watched, I found myself, once again, thinking about joy as I went on my morning walk.
I think joy is more external than internal.
Something that emerges in our interactions with others.
At least that is what seems true in my life.
Imagining and creating a whole new world under a sheet with my grandson.
Special moments spent with my sons and my wife and good friends.
Standing outside a newly built or repaired home with a homeowner who never dreamed what she now sees would ever be possible.
And, at least for me, joy is subtle.
More often quiet than something announced with trumpets loud crashing cymbals.
Maybe that is because I am an introvert.
Or, maybe that is just the way joy is.
And, I think we miss joy in our lives because we focus too much on happiness.
Because happiness often is framed in individual terms.
Am I happy?
Are my children happy?
Merton touched on something beyond my knowing.
At least today.
And probably tomorrow, as well.
And so I will continue to live pondering his wisdom.
And hoping to find my way.
If it was less chilly I would have stood their longer.
But, the wind out of the north was stronger than the early morning sun.
But I stood there long enough to to take it all in.
As the wind churned up waves as it blew across the late spring grass.
And the yellow wild flowers danced in the sunlight
And my dog ran for the sheer joy of running.
Down the hill
And back up again
Through the grass and wild flowers
In circles around me as I walked and watched.
Yom Kippur began at sundown last night and ends this evening.
For the Jewish community, it is the conclusion of the High Holy Days which began 10 days ago with Rosh Hashanah. And, the holiest day of the year. Among other things, Yom Kippur is a day marked by fasting and prayer. Not knowing I wondered what the appropriate greeting for Yom Kippur was and so I looked it up. What I found was this:
“I wish for you an easy fast.”
With all due respect, and honoring this most holy of days, that is not what I wish for my Jewish sisters and brothers. Instead my prayer for you is this.
I wish for you a fast with enough longing and enough pangs of hunger to remind you, once again, of the longing and hunger in the world entrusted now to our care and keeping.
A longing and a hunger not just for food enough, but also…
For hope enough;
And for joy enough;
And for understanding enough;
And for peace enough;
That you help show us the way we all need to go.
Meet us where we are, O God, but leave us not there.
Meet us in our joy and then turn us towards wisdom.
Meet us in our brokenness and lead us towards wholeness.
Meet us in our sorrow and beckon that we follow You
In the direction of healing.
Meet us in our comfort and our contentment;
And call us towards compassion.
Meet us in our bondage and show us the way of freedom.
Meet us in our gratitude and lead us towards generosity.
Meet us, O God…
Just as we are.
And, lead us towards who we are called to be.
From the Bible: John 10:10
[Jesus said to them]
The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy.
I came that [you] might have life, and have it abundantly.
I stumbled across the writings of Thomas Merton when I was in college.
From his autobiography, The Seven Story Mountain, to his journal, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, his writing captured a way of looking at and thinking about and expressing one’s faith that I had never encountered before. I don’t think it is too much of an exaggeration to say that I would not be who I am today and where I am today if I had not picked up and read his books back then. For those of you who do not recognize his name, Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk. A Roman Catholic brother in a cloistered order whose members took vows of silence and celibacy and simplicity. Yet, for living the life he did where he did, in the rural mountains of Kentucky, he wrote with an insight and awareness that changed my life transforming the way I thought about God and faith and how I might live my life.
So, that is a somewhat long introduction to this…
For nearly 40 years, a small book of Merton’s quotes has occupied a place on my bookshelf never far from my reach. Here is one of the quotes from that book that I have lived with and thought about for that same length of time.
“Do not look for rest in any pleasure, because you were not created for pleasure: you were created from JOY. And if you do not know the difference between pleasure and joy you have not yet begun to live.”
And, I think that has something to do with what Jesus meant when he said,
“I came that you might have life and have it abundantly.”
I have found myself thinking about both Merton and Jesus because of something a friend and colleague wrote on our BPC Parents blog several weeks ago. Maybe you have seen a flyer or noticed a line about BPC Parents in the bulletin. Maybe you have even seen us on Facebook. BPC Parents is a weekly online resource for parents with reflections written by Kathy DiBiasi and myself and five other friends and colleagues who work in some capacity children and youth and families.
This particular contribution was about what fosters or supports happiness in our children.
All of us who have children want to them to be happy.
And, the truth is, all of us want to be happy, as well.
But, the more I thought about it and thought about happiness as the primary goal or one of the primary goals we have for our children or ourselves, the more unsettled I became because I think if we aim for happiness we miss the point.
And because I first begin with questions, I found myself asking:
Is happiness what I really long for for my children?
Or, for myself?
Happiness which is often defined by the things we have or desire;
Or, by security and ease and problem free, stress free life?
Or, do I wish for something more?
Something that Merton names as joy and Jesus names as abundant life?
I have spent 40 years living with and pondering what Merton meant.
And, about that long pondering what Jesus means.
I wish I were wise enough to tell you that after all that time I had arrived at some enlightened insight that I could pass on to you. And, then I could write a book and go on the talk show circuit and maybe even then, increase my pledge!
But, I am not that wise.
I am still living the question towards that distant day when I may discover something more of an answer. But, along the way, here is what I do think I have learned and what I think I know.
Joy and abundant life has…
Something to do with compassion and kindness;
Something to do with embracing life with its celebrations and its sorrows; its successes and failures, its highs and its lows and its everyday responsibilities and routines, and yet never letting go of gratitude and always keeping a look out for the grace that brushes up against our lives.
It has something to do…
With losing your life in the hope of finding it.
With giving your life away in the hope of discovering it.
And, with building community;
And loving boldly.
So, today I wonder…
What are you going to do with your one wild and precious life?
How will you spend it today?
And, what about tomorrow and the day after that?
What is the goal towards which your orient your life?
Once again today, each of us gets to decide.