Sometimes it happens that seemingly random events or experiences have within them a common thread which suddenly shimmers and calls for you to pay attention. I like to think of those linked moments as the whisperings of Spirit in our lives.
Last week one of those Spirit whispers began for me with the emotional words of a U.S. senator who said in a hearing, “I’m not letting anybody...steal my joy.” His speech brought tears to my eyes, for he spoke of a hard won joy, a resilient joy which could not be stopped even when the road was difficult.
The thread appeared again when I opened a devotional book by Sister Wendy Beckett, The Art of Lent, which I’ve been using as my personal meditation guide. In it the fourth week of Lent began with Psalm 30:5, “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” Here in these long hard days of Lent, Sister Wendy chose to focus her attention upon joy, with each day of this week offering a meditation on embracing joy.
You may have seen a bit of this thread of joy, too. In our Full to the Brim devotional books one of the works of art is a paper laced cut-out by Hannah Garrity entitled Inexplicable Joy. Reflecting on the unconditional welcome of the father in the parable of the prodigal she writes of joy as “an act of resistance.” The father embraces the younger son and invites the entire household into a moment of joyful celebration.
Joy seems an odd theme for Lent. After all our worship together is focused on the journey of Jesus to Jerusalem and to the cross. It is a profound time when the shadow of the cross looming throughout the season and invites us to dive deeply into our lives as followers of Jesus. And yet, even in the solemness of Lent we may find a thread of joy, in the extravagant celebration of the father in the prodigal parable and overflowing in the loving generosity of Mary who anoints the feet of Jesus with a jar of perfume.
The world is filled with so much pain, it can seem that experiencing joy is inappropriate. How can I feel joy when war is raging in far away places? After two years of living through a pandemic, with over 6 million deaths from COVID-19, joy may seem wrong. Is it right to feel joy when laws are being passed which discriminate against our trans siblings? So much of life is hard, the news filled with the horrors of the world.
In a recent conversation with Brené Brown on the podcast, “Unlocking Us,” writer Karen Walrond exclaimed, “If we feel guilt about the joy, then the bad guys win….We can’t let them win...and joy is how we develop resiliency.” As she said this, I felt a weight lift. Yes, we will burn out if all we do is focus on the worst of humanity. But we know there is so much more to the world than the evil which grabs the headlines. I know I’ve heard joy in recent days—in the gift of music performed by Rowan County School District students in Seussical the Musical and by the Cave Run Symphony at their Fairy Tales concert. I’ve seen joy, too—in the beauty of daffodils and dogwood tree blossoms. And I’ve tasted joy in a bite of homemade carrot cake shared by a friend.
May we be met with joy, my friends, even in troubled times. And may we be freed by the Spirit to embrace the joy life brings us.
A native of Illinois, Rev. Nancy Gowler lived for 26 years in the Pacific Northwest. She joined the ministry of First Christian Church in Morehead, KY, in July of 2020.