Advent 3 (Sunday) :: When Joy

Stir into flame the gift which is you.

Stir into flame the gift which is you.

Dear friends,

A few months ago, Kirk and I were participating in a program at a local church that challenged me to re-enter some of my earliest childhood memories in a new way. 

In the most prominent of those memories, I was walking along the outside hallway that led to my first-grade classroom. I had just come from the PE playground on the upper field of the school, and on that playground something wonderful had happened to me. I recall walking from the field to my classroom in a state of wonder and joy and pure innocence and happiness in my little five-year-old self.

But when I stepped inside the classroom, all of that changed.

Inside, an unexpected cruelty awaited me to steal my joy — and steal it, it did. Before I knew it, my inner orientation had upended and went sailing through the air, soon to land on its back, completely shocked, unprepared, scared, and confused.

In nothing more than a moment, the joy got snatched away.

Revisiting that story (and others like it) in my life is nothing new. I have worked with those memories over the years, mining them for the ways they formed me to become more vigilant, more careful, more guarded of my heart. I have allowed Christ to meet me in those disoriented places, sharing with me his seeing of me, his with-ness with me.

And that has been very good.

What I haven't done in all these years, though, is consciously re-enter the joy space — that place I lived before my inner world went sailing through the air.

Several months back, that is the invitation that came.

When I revisited that memory, I found Christ standing at the open door to the classroom, watching me approach in that wonder-filled trek I'd taken from the upper playground. He stood at the door, facing me with a smile as I held such fullness of joy and gladness in my heart, and he seemed to be saying with his smile and his eyes: 

"Yes. This. Stay in this place of wonder. Savor its taste and feel. Remember this."

He was inviting me back into joy.

If you were to encounter an invitation like this — an invitation back into the joy of a bliss-filled state you once knew — how would you respond? Would it be easy to say yes? Would you trust such an invitation?

It's not been easy for me to say yes to this. Decades of programming have wired me for vigilance, for waiting for the other shoe to drop, for anticipating all the ways I might be caught unawares and so doing all I can to be ready for when it happens. 

I'm used to living in a protective shield, not free-spirited joy.

What might that be like?

This past week, as part of our Advent Meditations group, we received a meditation based on Jan Richardson's blessing called "Blessing to Summon Rejoicing." You can listen to the meditation here, and here is the text of the blessing: 

When your weeping
has watered
the earth.

When the storm
has been long
and the night
and the season
of your sorrowing.

When you have seemed
an exile
from your life,
lost in the far country,
a long way from where
your comfort lies.

When the sound
of splintering
and fracture
haunts you.

When despair
attends you.

When lack.
When trouble.
When fear.
When pain.

When empty.
When lonely.
When too much
of what depletes you
and not enough
of what restores
and rests you.

Then let there be

Then let there be

Let there be
laughter in your mouth
and on your tongue
shouts of joy.

Let the seeds
soaked by tears
turn to grain,
to bread,
to feasting.

Let there be
coming home.

— Jan Richardson, from Circle of Grace

I listened to this meditation after recording it on Friday morning, and it spoke to me yet again of this invitation into joy I have been carrying. In so many ways, I have let myself sit in my narrative of sorrow, holding all the broken pieces of my life and the ways they formed me. Yes, Christ has healed me in those shattered places in so many ways. But have I allowed myself to be returned to full and utter joy? Can I let myself lean into the trust that requires? 

What might living from a narrative of joy be like? 

I can't help but think of Mary in this place — she who was dealt an unusual hand that came with quite a fair share of pain and ostracism. She would have been the target of whispers and sidelong glances and rumors. She would have been quite alone.

And yet she says to the angel, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord. Let it be unto me according to your word." She says, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior."

She said yes. She chose joy.

Such courage, her.

In the reality of your own brokenness and pain, might there be an invitation into joy somehow? How do you find yourself responding to such an invitation? Can your response — no matter what it is — become a birthplace for honest prayer?  

Come share your response in the Advent Meditations group.  

Taking courage to open to joy,

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