We’ve all heard the quote from Philippians 4, where Paul says (my paraphrase): “Rejoice in God always… dismiss all anxiety, present your needs to God and let God’s peace descend upon your hearts.” He makes it sounds so simple, but here’s the dilemma, joy seems to be so perishable. There are any number of things in this world that effectively and efficiently take the edge off our joy. Work was the top of our list when we talked about this in worship yesterday, followed by taxes, relationships, obligation, expectation, health insurance, pain, fear, worry, guilt, other drivers… you name it. How frustrating that we can get a “joy on” and have reality crash it in 2.5 seconds.
(For the full audio version, click here.)
In a daily email devotional I received from Richard Rohr last week, he talked about knowing reality by “affinity, by likeness, by an inner resonance.” He asserts that, “We see who we are everywhere else because we see through who we are at any one moment.” So if we are fearful, we will look for things that create more fear, if we are angry we will look for things that create more anger, but if we are compassionate or loving or merciful or joyful, we will look for, and receive, those things into our hearts and lives. We have to be aware of the lense color of the glasses we wear.
There are beautiful, divine moments around us all the time, but we don’t look for them. Rohr talks about “smiling at Tide boxes”. He said he was at Kmart one particularly emotionally trying day, when an ordinary moment was spontaneously filled with the divine. Suddenly he found himself happily standing idly in an aisle just looking at boxes of Tide. He didn’t know how long he stood there, but he was just smiling at the Tide boxes! Life was all utterly okay. He was okay and all was right with the world.
I will often (especially when out for a walk) bring myself out of my mind-wanderings and back to the present by conscious recognition of how wonderful the moment is. Just that moment. Without rehashing the past, or rehearsing the future. And for that moment, my mind and body are released to know peace and freedom.
Paul talks specifically about anxiety. He says, let it go. Present your needs to God and feel the peace that comes. I personally really dislike the cliché “let go and let God,” maybe because it sounds like we’re not taking responsibility, or that God will magically fix whatever is going on in our lives. However, the phrase does remind us that carrying all the stuff we carry doesn’t get us anywhere emotionally or spiritually. There is a reason we use the phrase “carrying our burdens”… the anxieties, worries, guilt, regret, grieve, brokenness, anger, fear, shame and so much more, are “heavy” on our bodies. All these things take their toll on our physical selves as well.
I know that sometimes the sorrow and struggles of this world are enormous. Just watching the news at night makes me feel almost blasphemous talking about joy. But, Catholic priest and theologian, Henri Nouwen, reminds us that the cup of life doesn’t just hold the tears of the world, but the joy as well. They exist side by side and it is often in our shared sorrow that we uncover that deep joy that goes beyond understanding and time to the “peace that passes all understanding.”
Let me close with part of a prayer by Ted Loder,
Help me to trust that joy is a now hint Of what throbs imperishably At the heart of eternity