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Children playing on the beach by Mary Cassatt
What do you do when you're happy? I tend to hum. A friend whistles.

I mentioned a few weeks before I went on vacation, that I was in search of playfulness, wanting to reconnect with the freedom and delight that comes in those moments when you're not trying to solve the world's problems, or even your own.

The energy of happiness, or the power of joy, is one that can take me a long way in my daily endeavors. While on vacation, I rediscovered the joy of playing the piano, painting and riding my bike. I found myself re-energized as I pedaled along the lake and up to the pool, smiling as I noticed vignettes that would make for good sketching, moved as my fingers flowed through DeBussy.

Coming home, I looked again at my kitchen and living room, waiting (as they have for the past several years) for a makeover that was "more me." At Christmas I had received two paintings from my eldest daughter, Aletheia, who has recently plunged into her artistic self. (You can find examples of her art work here). I loved the colors and movement in the pieces and had them framed and mounted on the wall between the kitchen and living room. Now the wall was dying for some color - the art needed a more suitable background.

I grabbed a friend to help with the multitude of cheery greens at Lowes, and came home with a can of paint. Two days later, the wall was pulsating with verditas (Hildegard of Bingen's favorite word), the power of spring, new birth, growth. Everytime I looked at the wall I smiled; some of that Florida sunshine seemed to have come north after all! Now tearing down the old wallpaper wasn't so daunting. The color suggested other options that I hadn't thought of before, and soon the kitchen project was taking shape in my mind.

We all live our lives from different centers. What works for me may not work for you, but then again, maybe it might. While in Florida I visited a long-time friend. "I'm remembering that one of my basic desires is to be happy," I said. "I like to have fun." She looked at me quizzically. "I know," she said, "I don't think about having fun much."  "Well," I said, "Maybe our ideas of fun are just different. If you were in charge of something big, coordinating a group of people to accomplish a meaningful objective, wouldn't that be fun?"  Her eyes lit up. "Yup," she said, "that would be fun." "Sounds like a lot of work to me," I said. "But you would be great."

Any personality test will help point out that we're wired differently. As someone certified with the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, I know that some of us are happier when we're exploring new ideas, and others when we're getting things checked off a list. Intimate conversations will jazz some of us; large parties will get others stoked. And while a quiet walk, or an afternoon of music can be just what the doctor ordered, bungee jumping and white water rafting can make others feel alive. The important thing is to notice what we're doing when we feel the most "like ourselves."

So I'm paying attention to when I'm humming, choosing to do things that bring a smile. It may not seem like much, but I know that it's what makes life meaningful to me. And what energizes me to move forward with a sense of joy.
 
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As I pick up "The Revelation of Love" and begin to read the words of Julian of Norwich, I am struck by this simple fact: Julian was not afraid to ask. In the second chapter of her manuscript, Julian tells us that she "had previously desired three gifts from God." These gifts, as I mentioned in the last post, were to know more clearly the passion of Christ, to experience an illness that brought her to the door of death, and to receive three "wounds": the wounds of "very contrition, of kind compassion and of wilful longing to God."

Not only does Julian share with us her desires, but she also tells us the reason behind these desires. She wants to see and experience the passion (or the death) of Christ, so that she may have a "truer" mind. She yearns for an illness so that she may be purged by the mercy of God, and live more to God's honor. Yet, as noble as these hopes might be, she qualifies these two requests by a phrase that echoes that of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane: "Lord, you know what I will-if it be your will that I have it; and if it is not your will, good lord, do not be displeased, for I will nothing except as you will."
 
I've blogged earlier about desire (here), but I caught myself thinking about it again this morning after a breakfast conversation with Dan. We were talking about the pull of glory, and the power to break free from things that hold us captive. Is it possible to choose the way of God, over the "way of Cain?"

The story of Cain and Abel is a familiar one. Abel brings an approved sacrifice to God and is blessed. Cain brings an unacceptable sacrifice and is corrected by God. Seeing Cain's anger, God continues the conversation. "Sin is crouching at your door," He tells the older brother. "It desires to have you. But you can have mastery over it." Cain refuses to take mastery over his emotions, and instead takes mastery over Abel, committing the first murder.

It is interesting to notice that God assumes that Cain is able to make the right choice. He gives Cain more moral power than we often think we have. Cain is not portrayed as "enslaved" to his emotions, but rather as one who can take control of his passions. So why doesn't Cain "do the right thing?" I'm not sure we can know, but I'd like to hazard a guess that it's connected to desire.
 
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Early this morning my husband and I talked with our oldest daughter, who is returning from a week long visit to Cambodia. One of her goals in life is to travel to all 7 continents. At 28 she's well on her way, having added Asia to North and South America, Africa and Europe. Her voice was animated. Cambodia was all that she had hoped for. The people were wonderful, the food was tasty, inexpensive AND gluten-free, and the friend she went to visit was a wonderful tour guide.

Desire can be a powerful motivator. The desire to go to Cambodia spawned a lot of creativity, as Aletheia figured out how she could acquire miles to make the trip affordable. It required imagination and hard work. On the other hand, lack of desire, often masquerading as noble, may really be an unhealthy acquiescence, giving up or giving in. 
 
I remember the first Christmas that my hyped-up anticipation of the joy I would receive from my Christmas presents was not met. The packages had all been opened and I looked around the room, filled with family, cousins and grandparents, empty boxes covering every inch of floor space, and felt...empty. My desires had been unmet and the uncomfortable feeling of being dissatisfied dogged me the rest of the day. I made a decision. I was going to stop hoping for Christmas to be much of anything. I would assume that I probably wouldn't be happy with what I received, and so ward off the disappointment that would inevitably be a part of all Christmases to come. As a strategy it worked, but I'm not sure my life was the fuller for taking that path.

We can't flee from our desires. Neither does God want us to stuff them in a sack and bury them in the backyard. Rather, we should treat them as signposts, letters from our souls. They help to tell us what we need and perhaps the direction we should be heading. They spur us on to creativity and imagination. They make us think about what it takes to be fulfilled. Perhaps on the surface they are unrealistic, or even harmful in their immaturity. But they spring from something essential to our very nature. Even the desire to have power, for instance, may be telling us about the capacity we have to lead. And the desire to have a significant relationship may showcase the ability to love deeply that is knit into the core of who we are.

In one of my favorite psalms, the poet assumes that God has planted desires in his heart and that God is responsible for the filling of those desires. "May God grant you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed." says David, in Psalm 20, verse 4. A good prayer for us all, not only at Christmas time, but every day of our lives.