Regular worship services are each Sunday
at 10:30 a.m.
Our Quiet Mediation this morning introduces us to ‘The Book of Qualities’ by J. Ruth Gendler. Someone gave me a copy of this book in 1995 and I have been in love with it ever since. There are 78 qualities brought to life in this small book. Each helps me to see myself and my own inner qualities more clearly.
For several years I randomly read a quality each day. You could say I read it “religiously!” Our long time member, Mike Venturino suggested I build a sermon series around the book and this summer seems the perfect time.
The book opens with the words found in the Quiet Meditation in our bulletin:
“The Wind is a gossip. Not in a malicious way. She just likes to move
around and stir things up. She runs through the fire barefoot and has no fear of heights. She carries big blue bowls of rain with her. She plays the flute and loves all kinds of sounds. Her laughter fills the sky. The Wind is a wonderful story-teller. I still remember how she introduced me to the Qualities when I was a child.”
As the qualities come to life I find myself immersed in the beauty and power of their meaning. Today, we’re going to talk about Joy!
John 15 is one of my all-time favorite passages in the New Testament. We know that John’s Gospel is weird. His language is poetic; Jesus doesn’t speak in pithy parables as he does in the other gospels, he waxes long winded. John never met the historical Jesus but he probably knew John the disciple and wrote from his teachings about Jesus. He felt he knew the Spirit of Jesus, the Christ of faith.
For John, Jesus Christ was the embodiment of the great “I Am” that spoke to Moses at the burning bush! Moses asked “Who are you?” God said, “I Am that I Am!” In John’s Gospel Jesus says, “I am the bread of life; I am living waters; I am the way the truth and the life; I am the vine, you are the branches!”
John wants us to remember that God is in all, including us. And when we can remember that, we can experience Joy! We hear Jesus say, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete!” (John 15:11)
But Our World sees things differently. René Descartes, declared, “I think therefore I am!” A French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist, Descartes was dubbed the father of modern western philosophy. Most of us tend to define ourselves by what we think. The constant monologue in our heads can sometimes inspire but also divides our lives into ‘us/them’ realities, and dualistic thinking.
Our thoughts were meant to be tools for our whole selves, but they too often run the show.
How we think manifests in how we live! If our thinking is negative we have a “bad day.” When we are able to remember to think with an attitude of gratitude, for all the beautiful and loving goodness in our lives, we have a “good day!”
Of course, some of us live as if “I feel therefore I am!” Reality television seems to imply that without drama there is no life. When our emotions are strong it is difficult to imagine anything other than this dramatic reality. But emotions are also meant to be tools, indicators that provide us with information -- they should not run the show!
God calls us to an abundant joy-filled life! Our thinking gets in our way, certainly, as do our emotions. And our life experiences block us from joy as well, right? The tragedies, deaths, illnesses, job losses, accidents, all tend to overwhelm us. How can we be expected to find joy in the midst of all these?
John suggests that we can abide in the Spirit of the Christ; that we can draw our strength from the living God; that apart from God we can do nothing! This is not “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” theology. This is radical “let go and let God” spirituality. It calls us to discover the sacred in every moment. This moment. The hard moments, the deaths, the fears, the “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” moments, as well as the mountaintop moments of beauty and wonder.
This joy we are called to is not intellectual, it is not just emotional, it is visceral, spiritual, and fills all of life. We can dance in it, sing in it, play in it. We can work in it, wash dishes in it, vacuum floors in it, prepare inventories and go to meetings in it.
We cannot force it. Joy comes from God in God’s own time. But we can make ourselves available to it, by listening, by choosing to honor our true selves, by keeping our eyes wide open, by dancing our own unique dance of life.
In 12 step work they suggest we “fake it until we make it,” not with an artificial smile, not with a “how are you? I’m fine” response to everything, but with a genuine willingness to discover what gift we might experience in this moment if we are fully present to it.
We need to stop multitasking and trying to get ahead of all the busy-ness in our lives. We need to be fully present to this moment, this task. If we are listening, listen fully. If we are working, focus on each task one at a time. If we are hurting, breathe into the pain, notice if it has something to say to us, give it into God’s care, pray for healing, pray for clarity.
Instead of talking about joy I’d really rather be dancing! In this moment I want to simply breathe in the miracle of being alive. I invite you to just breathe!
“I breathe, therefore I am!”
Instead of the left brain “I think therefore I am,” or the dramatic, “I feel therefore I am!” maybe try “I breathe, therefore I am!” I invite you to explore the possibility that the Spirit that resides in every breath you breath is calling you to be fully aware of that breath. Abide in the living water, the bread of life. Abide in the breath of life! Remember that all we can do is allow love to love through us. Abide in God’s love and let God’s love flow through you. Breathe and Be! Let the wind of the Spirit stir you to Joy!
Moments of Joy stay with us as sacred memories. When has joy filled your heart and mind? What stories could you share with us today?
One moment that percolates to the surface for me, again and again, is the time recently in Bible Study when Bob Donovan, our oldest and often wisest member, shared a profound perspective. We were talking about a story in Mark’s Gospel when Jesus healed a man born deaf and dumb. Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears and spoke in Aramaic: “Ephphatha!” which means “Be Opened!” We debated whether this could literally have happened that way and what the story might really be about. Then Bob told us that for him, this command to “be opened” applies to all of us, that is has been one of his great lessons over the years he has been in our church.
His words and his great heart touched me so deeply that evening that I found myself in tears. And of course, given my work, it affirmed everything I believe and stand for and try to teach. It was a moment of pure joy that has stayed with me and been renewed whenever I remember it.
J. Ruth Gendler’s words about Joy, are in the insert in your bulletin. Perhaps they will resonate now with you, as they do with me:
Joy drinks pure water. She has sat with the dying and attended many births. She denies nothing. She is in love with all of it, the sun and the rain and the rainbow. She rides horses at Half Moon Bay under the October moon. She climbs mountains. She sings in the hills. She jumps from the hot spring to the cold stream without hesitation.
Although Joy is spontaneous, she is immensely patient. She does not need to rush. She knows that there are obstacles on every path and that every moment is the perfect moment. She is not concerned with success or failure or how to make things permanent.
At times joy is elusive – she seems to disappear even as we approach her. I see her standing on a ridge covered with oak trees, and suddenly the distance between us feels enormous. I am overwhelmed and wonder if the effort to reach her is worth it. Yet, she waits for us. Her desire to walk with us is as great as our longing to accompany her.”
May you know Joy this day and may you breathe into this moment the miracle of being alive. Amen.