The Risen Christ by He, Qi

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete."
(John 15:9-11) 

Last night I sat around a table with my three daughters, sharing Mother's Day dinner in a bustling Macaroni Grill. I couldn't be happier when I spend time with these amazingly wonderful young women - reflective, kind, creative, loving, silly, profound. I love them, I love what they do, I love supporting what they do and learning from them. I'm happy we're connected, that love flows freely between us. I know I'm blessed with these relationships and they fill me with joy.

When Jesus talks about staying connected to him, "abiding in him" as a branch stays connected to a vine, it's not about moral imperatives. We don't "please God" so that he won't be angry with us. Far from it. As Julian of Norwich is surprised to discover in her visions of God, never can she even catch a hint of God being angry with us. Rather, it's that living in love allows us to fully inhabit the sphere of God. and participate in the joy that comes from deep relationships bound together by a common purpose.

All through Eastertide, I've been captivated by the Henry Dyke hymn, Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee, set to Beethoven's Ode to Joy. Dyke picks up on John's twin themes of connectedness (in 1 John he'll refer to it as fellowship) and joy. It's the phrase from the third stanza that's been running around in my mind: "All who live in love are thine." But as I consider Jesus' words in John 15, I can imagine him saying, "All who live in love are mine, and living, working, loving together with you brings me more joy than you will ever know."

Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee
Henry Dyke

Joyful, joyful, we adore thee,
God of glory, Lord of love;
hearts unfold like flowers before thee,
opening to the sun above. 
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness;
drive the dark of doubt away.  
Giver of immortal gladness,
fill us with the light of day!

All thy works with joy surround thee,
earth and heaven reflect thy rays,
stars and angels sing around thee,
center of unbroken praise. 
Field and forest, vale and mountain,
flowery meadow, flashing sea,
chanting bird and flowing fountain,
call us to rejoice in thee.

Thou art giving and forgiving,
ever blessing, ever blest,
well-spring of the joy of living,
ocean depth of happy rest! 
Thou our Father, Christ our brother,
all who live in love are thine;
teach us how to love each other,
lift us to the joy divine.

Mortals, join the mighty chorus
which the morning stars began;
love divine is reigning o'er us,
binding all within its span. 
Ever singing, march we onward,
victors in the midst of strife;
joyful music leads us sunward,
in the triumph song of life.

Yesterday's sermon was anchored in a familiar verse by Paul. Found in his letter to the Philippians (1:21) it is perhaps his "missional statement," the focus of his life's vocation.
"For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain."

Sometimes verses like this seem meaningful, and yet hard to grasp. I found myself yesterday inserting the word "joy" for Christ. I don't think this is irreverent, as Christ comes to give us joy. Perhaps one could also substitute the word "love," another word that Christ embodies.

For to me to live is joy, and to die means even more joy.
For to me to live is love, and to die means even more love.

Playing with the text this way opens it up to more questions, or steps forward. To live in joy might mean that I have to start dancing. (Yesterday I had a distinct sense that my body needs to join my mind for me to experience joy most fully.) To live in love means that my heart continues to expand, that who and what I love continues to broaden, that I grow in my capacity to give, to receive and to creatively companion.

Paul sought to grab onto all that Jesus came to give. His motto is an expression of that commitment, a guiding statement that's worth sharing. It's also a good Monday mantra.
And by his own gracious light he wants us to understand the following things: the first is our noble and excellent creation; the second our costly and precious redemption; the third, everything which he has made beneath us to be of use to us and which he sustains out of love for us...And so he means that it befits us to know that that greatest deeds have been done, as Holy Church teaches. And in contemplating this with thanksgiving we
should pray for the deed which is now being done; that is, we pray that he should rule and guide us to his greater glory in this life and brings us to his bliss: and he has done everything to this end. (Julian of Norwich, chapter 42)

As I was kneeling at the altar at the Episcopal church we visited yesterday, I was reminded of a prayer I've often made throughout these past years. "Lord, grant me strength for the journey." To see the elements of the eucharist, bread and wine, as strengthening my soul is not new. What was new, yesterday, was realizing that strength and wisdom, love, peace, joy, gracious expressions of God's love, constantly surround me. They are not something that God needs to give me, as much as what I need to open myself up to. My prayer is the acknowledgement of my lack, yes, but not a means by which God unlocks the heavens. Grace has already been poured out, I need only to open myself to God's love, flowing in its many and varied forms.

This seems to be what Julian of Norwich is getting at in the passage above. If we come to God begging, we miss what is true. God desires to grant us every good gift. He wants to "guide us to his greater glory in this life and bring us to his bliss." To accomplish this, His strongest desire, "the greatest deeds have [already] been done." He has made us, formed us His "noble and excellent creation." Secondly, He has, through the life and death of His Son, Jesus, brought us back into open and free connection with Him and His life-giving, joy-bringing, love-delighting Spirit. Finally, He has made and continues to sustain the world around us for our blessing.

This morning, I found myself slightly anxious, my brow furrowing once again, reinforcing those indelible creases I noticed just a few weeks ago. The self-imposed pressure of writing regularly on this blog was making me anxious. I caught myself up short. Wait - how was this at all connected to the point of this blog, which is to choose joy? If I can't be joyful, why do I even bother? It's true I have some thoughtful points to make, maybe even helpful comments to folks who wander onto this site, but my life has to be first and foremost about joy, or it's all bogus. 

After a minute or so, I realized that I had lost my focus. I had forgotten to begin the day with gratitude. God has given me so many good gifts. As Julian mentions, the gift of life, of his love, of his provision. He's also given me desires, planted in my heart, that He wishes to fill. He continues to surround me with His love. In fact, I am living in the ocean of His love. Some days swimming, some days floating, some days surfing, some days diving deep. This is what's true. This is what God wants me to remember today. To be grateful and let the joy flow in.

I've been preoccupied with wedding plans of late. So many details and decisions have put my mind on overload, like an electrical grid struggling to support a plethora of air conditioning units in their battle against the summer heat. Thankfully, it hasn't been so humid here, since that also slows my brain down, and our air conditioning is quite adequate to the task of keeping our house comfortable.

My mom happened to mention during her last visit that she rarely uses her air conditioning; opening the windows at night, closing them in the morning and a judicious use of her curtains keeps her quite comfortable during the Indiana summers. While applauding her frugality, my husband mentioned that she might still want to use the air conditioning upon occasion as it would help to keep the moving parts lubricated.

It occurs to me that it's easy to let my own juices congeal. Even as I think and write about choosing joy, I can get so preoccupied with solving problems and living in my head that I don't allow the beauty of the moment to refresh my soul (not to mention my body). One of my favorite bloggers, Robin Bates, posted this poem over at Better Living Through Beowulf. I love the play on words; you wouldn't, for instance, expect that indulging your senses is the "sensible" thing to do. And "succumb" should describe someone who's been overcome by their senses, not one who has successfully resisted their allure. No, in this case, it is the rational argument that needs to be defeated - the pressures of delight that need to be endured and embraced. Imagine someone who has lived in black and white all their life entering suddenly into a world of color. The assault upon the rods and cones of the eye tempt a retreat into the familiar sepia, but oh, the loss! The solution may be to start small, one plum at a time.

I also like the marriage of mind and body that flows from this poem, the suggestion that happiness works its way to your mind through your body. "Joy is a taste before it is anything else" says Mary Oliver. While I don't know if I totally agree with that sentiment, I do believe we need to become integrated selves. Someone who lives totally in the physical realm misses the relational or intellectual joys that are also available. But those of us who live in our heads or become unnecessarily preoccupied with the busyness of life run the risk of dehydrated souls, while rivers of delight pass us by every day.

This poem encourages me to take the time to lounge - to devour (!) the beauty that comes to me through my sense (those five rivers that flow inward). And to recognize that these are, indeed, important moments.

The Plum Trees

by Mary Oliver

Such richness flowing
through the branches of summer and into

the body, carried inward on the five
rivers! Disorder and astonishment

rattle your thoughts and your heart
cries for rest but don’t

succumb, there’s nothing
so sensible as sensual inundation. Joy

is a taste before
it’s anything else, and the body

can lounge for hours devouring
the important moments. Listen,

the only way
to tempt happiness into your mind is by taking it

into the body first, like small
wild plums.

Artwork by Christian Berentz found at the Web Gallery of Art
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.
It's Black Friday, the official beginning of the gifting season. Every year, it seems, the malls open earlier and earlier. This year, online shopping sales actually began on Thanksgiving day. Maybe this was a good thing. While husbands settled down after dinner to watch football, their wives headed to the computer to get their shopping done. Everyone gets to sleep in on Friday and do the dishes and eat leftovers! All this shopping is powered by the belief that there is joy in giving.

I've been pondering the phrase, "it is more blessed to give than to receive." After the previous post here, It seemed like there might be stil be more to say on this. Plus, for the past several weeks, I've been pursuing the hypothesis that the greatest form of love is actually not the giving-love but rather the receiving love or joy (enjoying) of love. If it really is more blessed to give than to receive, I might have to dump my hypothesis.

Thankfully, I have my mom to go to. Recently she'd been out to visit and part of the time we spent together was shopping for Christmas presents for our family. Giving is one of my mom's greatest joys. In fact, her main concern in retirement was whether or not she would be able to continue to give presents to her (23) grandchidren. The good news was, thanks to my dad's careful and creative money management over the years, the answer to that question is "yes". There should be enough money to keep giving.

But why does my mom (and why do others) love to give? The answer is pretty obvious to my mom. It gives her great joy. In other words, she receives joy from participating in the joy that the giver experiences through her gift. When I receive a gift, I experience love in receiving. Whereas, the giver experiences the double joy of being the active agent of the joy of someone else. This might be sounding a bit complicated, let me see if I can try again. Giving = 2xjoy because I delight in someone else's delight. And I know that I am the source of that delight.

The reason one gives is so that one receives. Not another "gift" (who doesn't know the panic when an unexpected gift shows up. But I don't have anything for you, we sputter.) but rather the delight of the receiver. This is where we often go wrong when we think of self-sacrificing love. If we're not careful, we can stop at the act of giving of ourselves and not go through to the joy. Such "love" is not true self-sacrificing love, because true love springs from the hope of joy of the one who is being sacrificed for. The writer of Hebrews says, "Jesus, for the joy set before Him, endured the cross." (Heb 12:2) Jesus gave of Himself precisely because He knew (and the Godhead knew) that He/They would receive from this sacrifice. Through the death and resurrection of Christ, creation would be brought into health and wholeness. Redemption would be accomplished and we would receive fullness of life. 

Paul talks in Philippians 2:2 about "making his joy complete". John has the same phrase in I John 1. They are both echoing what Jesus says in John 15. Jesus wants to have joy in His disciples. They are to remain in him and bear much fruit, that brings him joy. They are to ask the father in His name, that in receiving from him their joy may be full. It's hard to get around it. The life that Jesus died to give, is a life of constant giving and receiving, characterized by joy. Righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost - that makes God happy! and fills us with joy.