I've picked up Julian of Norwich again after taking a bit of a hiatus. Blogging on her "Revelations of Love" during Lent was deeply meaningful, even though I only made it through 1/3 of her writings. The book I was using needed to be returned to the library, and since the copy I'd bought was still on backorder, I'd not finished reading through to the end. But a few weeks ago I led a retreat which included some reflections from Julian, so I grabbed the library copy again. It's been great having it back in the house.
Here's the phrase that drew my eye this morning:
"...for my love rejoice in me, for of all things you might please me most by that."
Our breakfast reading was one of our favorites, Psalm 103
, which begins and ends with the phrase: "Praise the Lord, O my soul." I mentioned to Dan that I had been reading Julian of Norwich earlier and been caught by the phrase above. I wondered aloud if God might be more delighted with our rejoicing in him than in our obedience. Dan pondered for a moment and concurred. "I'm thinking about how it feels when you do something I ask you to do," he said. " I may be pleased, but it's an entirely different feeling from that of when you compliment me, or appreciate me."
After our morning psalm, I usually offer a prayer. There were things to be thankful for this moring (our refrigerator did not totally die on us, but revived after vacuuming the coils) but after our conversation it seemed appropriate to use the prayer as a way to "rejoice" in God. As I turned my focus toward Him, as I took time to truly acknowledge His love and kindness, to value His grace and generosity, to enjoy His creativity - I could feel the delight that it brought His Spirit - a sense of warmth and expansiveness that comes to each of our souls when we're seen and loved for who we are.
Isn't it amazing that we can bring joy to the heart of God? What a gift that our praise matters - for the both of us.
"After this our good lord said: "I thank you for your travail, and especially in your youth."
I love good surprises. This past weekend, our youngest daughter became engaged and even though we all knew something was in the air, her fiance managed to keep the time and place under wraps. So when the happy couple burst through the side door of our house and came up the stairs into our kitchen, we were able to join in the good news with spontaneous joy.
Reading the 14th chapter of Julian of Norwich brought its own surprise. Thus far, the visions have been about what I expected: scenes of Christ's passion, images of God's power and sovereignty and affirmations of God's love. But Chapter 14 caught me off guard. In this brief vision, Julian reveals the extent of God's "honorable thanks" given to us, His servants (His children) during our time here on earth.
Having grown up in the church, God thanking me isn't a new concept. After all, I'm quite familiar with the parable of the talents found in Matthew 25 and Luke 19, where at the end of the story Jesus commends his servant by saying, "Well done, good and faithful servant, share your master's happiness." I guess I've always imagined a long line of people who, when they reach God are given a handshake and salute, or some sort of appreciation gift. Sort of like what happens at a yearly employee appreciation banquet I attended at my last job. Appropriate, but not life-changing.
(more after the break)
Have you ever been in the dilemma where what you want to give and what the receiver needs are at odds? I often go shopping with a friend of mine who loves to buy clothes for her family members. The problem is that her taste and the taste of the giftees don't always match. There may be satisfaction as my friend buys something that she imagines will look wonderful on the recipient, but in reality, the gift will only be exchanged or put in a drawer until it finds its way to the Salvation Army drop off bin.
So what to do? For instance, as this Christmas rolls around, I find myself reluctant to be giving the gift of independence to my adult daughters. Are they really sure that they wouldn't prefer me to give them advice, for instance, or a lovely evening at home? The gift of independence may be delightful for them, but it leaves me feeling rather hollow. Yet if I love them, I know that I need to give them this gift; it allows them to become the healthy adults that I desire them to be. And I'm wise enough to know that if I don't choose to give the gift, independence will be wrested away from me anyway, resulting in broken edges and scars that bring their own pain.
In the midst of Advent, I find myself pushing the story forward to the Atonement, the real reason that Jesus came to earth. In some mysterious way, the death of a perfect human, who was also God with us (Emmanuel) was the gift we needed if we were to be able to experience a full and joyful life. But even Jesus, who willingly chose to come to earth for this exact purpose, realized that there was a personal cost to giving this gift. I think that's what we see happening in the Garden of Gethsemane as Jesus struggles through the physical and emotional pain he was going to incur on the cross.
I cannot in any way plumb even the first few feet of what this sacrificial giving cost the the Savior. But when I am open to giving gifts that seem to have no benefit to me, or are painful, or strip me of the comforts that I want, I think I am putting my toes in the ocean of God's willingness to love me at any cost.
Lately there's been a lot of press about how our food gets to our tables. We're encouraged to think about the life of the chicken or cow before it shows up as lunch or dinner. Was the chicken raised in a crate or the cow confined to a stall all of its life? There's a new connection being made between the quality of life of the animal before its slaughter and our own quality of life, one that's worth some extra cost and even a little inconvenience.
Which makes me wonder about the toys we buy for Christmas presents, or indeed, any of the mass-produced products which fill myriads of shelves during the holiday season. Under what conditions are these items produced? What is the quality of life of the person on the line, looking at day after day of putting the same piece on a doll or tape recorder, and then passing it along?
These aren't earth-breaking thoughts; people have been writing, making movies, protesting, trying to enact legislation around these issues for quite some time. In fact, since the dawn of the age of industrialization there has been a critique of the human cost of mass production. What got me thinking this morning came from more personal reflections.
I feel like I am waiting for a certain type of energy to return, the energy that allows me to be the "productive person" that I once used to be. The sort who would have a million projects going at once, pride herself on the amount of things accomplished in a week, love the adrenalin rush of completion under deadlines. The only problem was that I had to become a machine in order to keep up with my self-imposed quota. And I did so at the cost of being a true human being. Like Dr. Faustus, I "sold my soul" to the devil of accomplishment and reaped the reward of the bargain.
Thankfully, my body rebelled. It crashed and burned (an early "hell"), setting me on a course that has been years in the making. I've had to relearn what it means to live a life that's as human as it can be - a life that is full and healthy on all levels, spiritual, physical, mental and emotional, and that has appropriate times of action and reflection. I'm starting to realize that if I live into the fullness of God's tri-fold love: giving-love, enjoying-love and creating-love, my desire for productivity will be appropriately met. God, out of love, desires to create with me. And in the generosity and wisdom of His love, not only will He determine the pace, but He will provide the raw materials for the creativity. Best of all, at the end of the day, He will set aside the time to enjoy the finished product. We'll kick back, put our feet up, grab a cup of whatever brew you prefer, and smile with delight at the fruits of our labor.
This morning, while listening to our local public radio station, I happened to catch this piece of data: one of the things that determines whether or not you will be happy at work, is, surprisingly, not the type of work, but the fact that you have a best friend at work. In one way, this is surprising, given all the talk on the importance of "meaningful work" in our lives. In another way, this is not so surprising, given the deeper need we have for meaningful relationships.
In past blogs, I've talked about 2 types of love: giving-love (which we often connect with God) and receiving-love (which I've tried to show is actually supremely Godlike). But there's a third type of love that rounds out the multi-directional aspects of love. This is "making" or creating-love." Creating-love is what happens when you aren't only the giver, or only the receiver, but you are involved in a relationship where the giving and receiving flows back and forth and the result is that something new is made. Love as co-creating.
This creating-love shows up in many situations: the love of two friends who go on a camping trip and forge an experience, or sit around drinking coffee and discover a new insight; the love of an artist with their medium who with the give and take of the material they're working with fashion a painting, dance, song or new cuisine. (Interestingly enough, writers discuss how writing is often co-creative. Some characters just show up, and then they take unexpected turns which the author is obliged to follow.) There is also the love of a husband and wife who join their lives together to establish a home and out of their love-making conceive children, creating a family to fill that home.
The first thing we learn about the God of the Bible is that he is a making God. Hebrew scriptures start "in the beginning" and in the beginning God creates. Christians affirm that God creates out of nothing - at least to begin with. But once something is made, God speaks to what is and woos more from what is there. I love the passages that describe the sea and the earth joining in the creative process - "Let the earth bring forth!" God says. "Let the sea bring forth". And they, and God, together do.
It's the joy that comes from working together that brings the happiness that the researcher was describing in the blurb I mentioned above. And it's this joy of creating together that God also desires with his creation. More on future blogs.