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Racine, WI 53405

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Joy in the Moment

Did you know that we all have access to the joie de vivre – the joy of living, the exuberant, buoyant enjoyment of life?  It exists within each of us, and is available to us in every moment if we'll take the time to open up to it. Sadly, many of our moments are spent looking for the negatives in life. We look for weeds in the garden instead of focusing on the beauty of the flowers. If someone asks how our week was, we gravitate toward the negative stories.

Part of our problem in opening to joy is that our brains are wired with a negative bias – evolution has trained us to first scan for dangers, to pick up any potential threats, and to protect ourselves. Fortunately, joy is also innate. But to truly embody it, we need to train ourselves to turn toward moments of well-being and happiness, to look for the blessings in the storm, to ground ourselves in the holiness of the moment, we need to learn to BE.

I chose the scripture for today because John Shelby Spong pointed out the invitation in it to dwell in the joy of Being.

In Matthew ,Jesus says, “Come to me all you who labor and carry heavy burdens and I will give you rest.” Bishop and theologian John Shelby Spong felt that this was an "invitation to dwell in the joy of capital-B "Being." Jesus wasn't saying here, have a seat on my nice comfy sofa, put your feet up and I’ll bring you a glass of wine or beer or whatever. He was saying, look I know you’re working really hard to be a good provider for your family, to become successful, to become a good parent or a good partner, but I want you to take a deep breath, let go of all your striving for a moment and just BE… in that action is an opening to the deep inner joy which longs to sustain us and lighten our loads.

If only there weren't so many things getting in our way of feeling joy in the moment: worry, fear, perfectionism, lack of time, to-do lists, and so much more. An article on the website Parabola states, “In a recent Harvard study… more than two-thousand adults were asked what they were thinking about during their day-to-day activities. It turns out that forty-seven percent of the time their minds were not focused on what they were doing. Even more striking was that they reported feeling less happy when their minds were wandering. Those who have learned how to focus their attention on the present moment are good athletes, good listeners, good thinkers, and good workers at anything they do because this gathering of the attention connects mind, heart and body in a balanced, harmonious state of awareness, of readiness to act or to be present.”

Here is a Zen koan for you to ponder. A man was crossing a field when he saw a tiger charging at him. The man ran, but the tiger gained on him, chasing him toward the edge of a cliff. When he reached the edge, the man had no choice but to leap. He had one chance to save himself: a scrubby branch growing out of the side of the cliff about halfway down. He grabbed the branch and hung on. Looking down, what did he see on the ground below? Another tiger.

Then the man saw that a few feet off to his left a small plant grew out of the cliff, and from it there hung one ripe strawberry. Letting go with one hand he found that he could stretch his arm out just far enough to pluck the berry with his fingertips and bring it to his lips. How sweet it tasted! 

That's it. That's the end of the story. Frankly, I’ve never liked this Zen koan because of that. I keep looking for a way out for the guy hanging on the cliff. But that’s not the point it is? The point is that even in life, we can't go back and the way ahead look treacherous, we can still find joy in the moment.

The Women’s Spirituality Group is currently reading Church of the Wild by Victoria Loorz. In there she tells the story about how early on in her spiritual journey her new church convinced her that discipline was an important part of being Christian. That didn’t come easy for her, so she bought a book on the Celebration of Discipline and planned her very first solo prayer adventure. She filled her backpack with water, a blanket, no food except for a granola bar that tasted like cardboard in case she got a headache, her sketchbook, a pouch of colored pencils, a sweater, and her Bible. Her plan was to drive to a nearby town with trees and a cascading river, and she’d curl up next to a welcoming oak tree and commune with God. It would be grand.

Well, she parked her car and started walking the trail, looking for that perfect place that she had in her mind. But nothing was quite it. Too close to the trail. Too many other people. Not enough shade. Too much poison oak. Too loud. She kept walking, convinced that her perfect place would be right around the next bend. After a couple of hours of this, exhausted and annoyed, she gave up, defeated. She tossed her bag down under an uninteresting oak tree and ate her uninteresting granola bar even though she didn’t have a headache and didn’t even care that there were people around. She decided her idea was now officially dumb.

Mad at herself for twisting a perfectly lovely day into a search for something perfect that doesn’t exist, she heard a voice, sort of, in her head, “Draw me.” So, she took out her pencils and sketchbook and began to sketch the contours of the oak tree in front of her, even though it was surrounded by concrete and invaded by a noisy playground. But as she drew she began to see the squirrels and birds that lived in the tree, the layers of life she was supporting. She slowly settled down, allowing herself to be present to the moment and a voice welled up in her again – God, maybe, or the tree – and said, “You could spend your entire life looking from tree to tree and indeed, someday, you may find a more perfect one to sketch. But you will have spent your life looking and never seeing. Stop and love what is right before you.”

Stop and love what is right before us. Stop and BE. This is how we open to joy in the moment.

Love & Light!