Living with Joy

Today is a beautiful, bright, sunny day. The air is crisp and cool, and the light and shadows dancing amidst the green leaves dazzle my eyes. The birds are in and out consuming the birdseed in my birdfeeder—including a brown-headed nuthatch. This day could go by, one more day in a lifetime, or it can be an opportunity for joy. I can stop and soak up the beauty of what I can see—and be in the presence of the Creator. I can take in the gift and let it run through my veins, energizing my soul and filling me with joy.

Another day I was with people who, because we felt safe in the group, dared to express their discomfort with the word faith and to ask questions. We had a wonderful conversation. It became a joyful moment of transformation. Later that day I took my car into the shop for routine maintenance. The joy came there when two service people helped me finally learn how to get spoken directions in the car to assist me in finding my destination when I travel.

Our days are often so full that what happens in the day becomes a blur and disappears into history. But to stop and look back over the day, remembering the sweet moments and the gifts that came amidst everything else, is to frame the day with joy and possibility and to give thanks and praise to the Giver of all good gifts.

My sister is a quilter. She loves to include lots of different, beautiful, and interesting fabrics. Sometimes I get to help her pick out the fabrics for the quilt. I get such pleasure out of looking at the fabrics, trying to find one that meets her needs, and then getting to let her take all the responsibility of making the selection. Later in the quilting process I help choose what fabric goes where. Each of us is being creative. When we co-create with God, joy is there.

Living with joy, when there is much that is terrible and sad, is important. It is not putting one’s head in the sand or playing pretend. It makes space and creates energy for God’s presence and action in the world. For the Christian it proclaims resurrection good news, that with God there is always hope and new life.

Queries:

What gives you joy? What helps you take time to experience joy?

What place do you see for joy in the midst of the tragic events and situations in our world?

Prayer:

“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless God’s holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all God’s benefits.” (Psalm 103: 1-2)

For further reflection:

“You set the earth on its foundations, so that it shall never be shaken. You cover it with the deep as with a garment.” (Read Psalm 104)

“A woman . . . began to bathe [Jesus’] feet with her tears. . . (See Luke 7: 36-50).

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Heaven

As someone of a certain age, I find that pondering about what happens when we die is natural. For some the answer is about going to heaven. A widespread belief is that heaven is the place you go after you die if you believe in Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Some would add the assumption that it is where you go if you have been good enough. For some, this picture gives life and hope. For others, this understanding seems too pat, simply unbelievable, or meaningless.

I think there are other faithful ways to think about heaven. Jesus teaches his disciples to pray for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6: 9-13). The yearning is for the two realms to be one—one where God’s ways are fully and completely present, where God’s “commandments” are in our hearts so that we choose to live them and live in harmony with all—the beloved community. God reigns–not human rulers, who are caught up in the ways of power and dominance.

Early Friends were among other religious people who were trying to find a way to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth. George Fox realized that the peaceable kingdom couldn’t come through violence and war. He came to know experientially that our hearts need to be changed, and that Christ is present and available to teach us– to love, to live in harmony, to follow God’s ways. Heaven is not confined to what happens to us when we die, or where we go after this life. As we come to know that life and power that tenders our hearts and changes our ways (this is different from intellectual assent to a set of beliefs), heaven—eternal and everlasting life—begins now.

When we are “in heaven,” all that is good in us rises up. All that hurts and destroys is ended. There is oneness and unity, creation is sustained. God dwells with us and in us. Because we know it now in moments, and as a promise, we hope that in time we will know it in full. That hope, held deeper and deeper, changes our lives now and forever. Death, then, I think, is a continued moving into love.

Queries:

What do you think about heaven and how does that impact how you live now?

When have you experienced that sense of oneness with all, of being loved completely, of God dwelling within, of being transformed?

Prayer:

In your imagination allow a vision of heaven to rise up. Take that into your heart and dwell there.

For further reflection:

“I will put my law within them and I will write it on their hearts . . .” (See Jeremiah 31: 31-34).

“Now I was come up in spirit through the flaming sword into the paradise of God. All things were new, and all the creation gave another smell unto me than before, beyond what words can utter.” –George Fox, Journal, 1647

What Is Your Image of God?

The New Testament book of James, while it calls itself a letter, is more like the Wisdom literature of the Hebrew scriptures. It gives insights and wisdom about nature and reality and the divine. James 1: 5-8 begins by telling us that if we lack wisdom, all we need to do is to ask God, who gives it generously. All is well. But then he says we have to ask for it in faith without doubt, ending with if we doubt we “must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.” That stings. Who doesn’t doubt?!

Some people read this passage as saying that when we ask God for anything, if we have faith, we will get it; and if we doubt, we won’t. If we are good, God rewards us; if we don’t obey, God punishes us. If we believe with no doubt that God will cure our loved one with breast cancer, it will happen. But if we doubt, God won’t make her well. Ouch! Such a reading sets us up to be able to manipulate God—and then who is God?

I believe, instead, that this passage is simply telling about how life is. Time and again I can fall into the doubting mode, even doubting the very existence of God. What happens then is that my sense of purpose and meaning disappear. I am anxious, uncertain, and irritable—like an ocean wave blown by the wind. Nothing goes well. I don’t think God is punishing me. I think I am getting the consequences of my choices. And when I turn to God and ask for help, I am met. The turning isn’t an intellectual change. It is simply letting go of the doubt and opening to Mystery. I have merely dropped into God’s flowing stream, where life and gifts lie generously available. There is no reprimand for having doubted—only wisdom.

Queries:

What image of God are you carrying?

What experience have you had of the wind and waves of anxieties and doubts? And of their being calmed?

Prayer:

Ask for what you need, and be open to the presence and action of God in your life.

For further reflection:

“But when Peter noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’” (See Matthew 14: 22-33).

“For the Lord gives wisdom. . .” (See Proverbs 2: 1-6).

Hope: A Spiritual Discipline

As a person who can look at a situation and acknowledge the hard things and who is not afraid to stand with pain and suffering, I can also easily despair. I know we need hope. It is life-giving. In Waging Peace: Discipline and Practice (Pendle Hill Pamphlet #420), Pamela Haines names practices for learning to live transformed for peace, and the discipline of hope is the first she mentions. What is the kind of hope that brings life and possibility?

The book of Jeremiah in the Hebrew scriptures talks about false prophets who cry “Peace, peace” when there is no peace. Hope not based in reality is not hope. Neither is it wishful thinking or simply expectation of what I want to happen. True hope is based on what we know or have experienced, and it is hope in what we cannot now see. We may not even be able to imagine it. Yet we have reasons to hold onto its possibility and to live toward that.

We may, for example, hope for the healing of a friend’s incurable disease. How can our hearts not desire that?! Yet if our hope is merely to get what we want, we will likely be disappointed or disillusioned.   Hope that is true hope is in a larger definition of what healing is, a larger vision of what is possible–a hope that is based on an awareness of the vastness of God’s goodness and the depth of God’s love. Healing can be a cure, but it can also be presence, comfort, tending, and bringing wholeness that extends into the world and beyond.

Our task is to learn to look for and to see the signs of hope. That may take opening our hearts to the One who makes all things new. It may also take learning to notice what we can be thankful for even in the midst of troubles.   Pamela says we need to develop the muscle of hope.

Queries:

What is your experience with hope?

What would it take to increase your hopefulness?

Prayer:

Hope is a prayer because it connects you with the Divine. Find a way to practice hope.

For further reflection:

“They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” (See Jeremiah 8: 8-11).

“Sing and rejoice, you children of the Day and of the Light. For the Lord God is at work in this thick night of darkness that may be felt.” (George Fox, Epistle 227, 1663).