This week’s Friday Five from RevGalBlogPals is a very cool one. I listened the C.S. Lewis book Surprised by Joy on CD a few months ago, and took a lot away from it. It was very powerful, and one of my favorite parts was where he talks about how he was trying to hard to be an atheist, but that God is incredibly sneaky. I have been known to comment, “God is one sneaky bastard!” which is appreciated by some more than others. (Yes, my irreverence has been known to get me into trouble…)
But more than this, what sings for me is not just allowing myself to let joy find me and surprise me. Rather, just in the last few months, the key concept for me has been intentionality. Yes, joy may drop in and surprise me, but I must consciously and intentionally look for it, or it will pass me by unnoticed. Like beauty, like love, the seeds for joy are planted by the Divine, but I must cultivate them intentionally if I want to see them grow. So I expect to struggle a bit with this question, as I find myself less and less surprised by the places I find joy, and more and more intentional about going to those wellsprings to drink in that joy for myself.
Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.”
He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. (John 21:5-7)
Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning. (Psalm 30:5b)
This week I’ve been watching parents of the young people slain at Virgina Tech trying to make meaning out of the lives of their lost children, and each one seems to begin by focusing on something joyful about that child. It’s a gift that most humans have brains wired to respond in that way. For some of us it can be harder to work our way out of dark places, but I believe joy remains the key. It is the spirit of resurrection.
Tell us about five people, places, or things that have brought surprising, healing joy into your life.
- Teh Internets. 🙂 Seriously. In 1995, I became involved in some online communities dedicated to the craft of writing, and I learned a lot in those communities and found caring support. But in 1997, after the conversion experience I shared a few weeks ago, I began seeking online faith communities. I happened upon an email list that was incredibly busy, but an amazingly loving, caring, and praying community. When the busy-ness of life became too hectic, I would step away from the list for a time, and then return when I was able. There was about a year that I stepped away completely, and I returned to a different list, which included mostly the same people I’d come to know and love. And I’ve now been in the Magdalen community for about five years. In that decade as part of the online Anglican community, I have formed some absolutely amazing relationships. It is surprising, and an incredible source of joy for me, how deep some of those friendships go, with people I have never met face-to-face. I am incredibly blessed and enriched by these communities, and I miss them when I have to go too long away from the Internet.
- I was so fortunate to be able to find The Well, a retreat center in Smithfield, Virginia. Owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Richmond, The Well welcomes those of any faith – or none – for peace and healing. The directors, Tom and Linda Ashe, are loving and compassionate, and their hospitality is profoundly healing. My retreat there in early March was a blessed breath of fresh air – breath of Holy Spirit power, in fact – and I am glad to have the chance to visit them again this Sunday.
- I find deep, deep joy in the Eucharist. While I know this, and the fact is unsurprising to me, sometimes I’m completely overwhelmed by the power in these simple acts, the extravagant love of God, the radical welcome of absolutely everyone to God’s table for the feast. And after receiving, I know that many return to their pew and kneel to pray, but I have never been able to do this. After I receive, I want to dance. However, most Episcopalians would probably be completely scandalized by the crazy lady dancing down the aisle back to her pew, so instead I make do with finding the hymn being sung, and lifting my voice.
- I love to watch my children – and in fact, anyone close to me – develop and grow. It is a deep source of inspiration and joy to watch a loved one overcome an obstacle and discover new things within himself or herself as a result. This hearkens back to the posts I wrote recently about overcoming obstacles and about being formed and shaped, and I am often surprised by the joy I encounter when I notice this growth in myself or others.
- The final source of joy I will list may sound a little strange, but it’s one I encountered just this week. In the midst of all the “interesting times,” all the conflict and pain and frustration, I had three separate Very Good Things happen this week. First, I set up the time to meet with the rector at Old Donation and to transfer my membership; you saw yesterday my joy and delight in having a new spiritual home. Second, I had a great talk with my boss on Wednesday about some frustrations I’ve been experiencing in my new job so far. It was a great talk, and I’m expecting some important fruits as a result. Third, in economics class last night, I learned that I have a solid A average, and am thus being exempted from the final exam (which is really great, because I’ll be out of town on business next week, and would be scrambling to get back here in time for it). In fact, I had one of the top scores on the midterm we took last week, and the professor recognized me and gave me a prize. It was awesome. But what I realized last night on my drive home is that these three joyful experiences all had something in common: I brought them all to pass. If I had not spoken up to my boss, I would still be miserable in my job. If I had not gone to church, and taken the leap to ask for an appointment with the rector, I would not have that new sense of family and home. And if I had not put effort into my studies in economics, then I would not have been recognized for it last night. So the final source of joy, often a surprising source of joy to me, is my own strength and power. Yes, my strength and power are very much rooted in God, but it is an incredible rush to recognize that they really are there. I am a strong and powerful woman. I am a unique and beloved child of God. I deserve to encounter joy along my path. And what an incredible rush that is!
I wish you all scandalous, extravagant, overflowing joy this Eastertide. May you find that deep wellspring of joy that remains with you, even in times of great pain, conflict, or grief. And may you be blessed with God’s peace and love.