My Meditation for Beresheth tonight coinciding with a prayer vigil for Virginia Tech...
Fruit of the Spirit: Joy. What a difficult topic to discuss this particular week. I’d have been happy to preach on joy last week when the weather was cool, my cacti garden surviving, my house clean, my job easy and my family doing well. And still, this week too is full of joy. My sister got her number one choice for her medical residency in Chicago. She traveled up there after receive not-great-news about being appraised for a loan, but found a delightful condo that she was able to buy for $1 less than her loan amount. A scary but good week for Amy. And I too have had a good week. Amidst an impending end to my grant which sustains my job, I have pressed on through the anxiety of “what will I do next” to enjoy the weather, love my neighbor and do my job.
But these are normal weeks for us, are they not? The good usually accompanies the bad and if we have a godly perspective on life, we can usually find joy amidst both.
But it’s hard to remember joy when great tragedy strikes: when your daughter dies, when your best friend dies, when you watch your classmates shot to death before your eyes while you play dead.
It’s hard to talk about joy when people are suffering to such extent. It makes me feel guilty because I can talk about joy amidst everyday trials, but grief currently consumes their very existence. When tragedy strikes and you are in the midst of it, life moves in slow motion like an old picture reel and you move like a cartoon from one frame to the next. Or it passes by so quickly that you can’t discern one emotion from another and so the world is seen through one pensive, fearful, burrowed brow.
I remember when my good friend died October 30, 2005, that’s how I felt. I couldn’t have preached on the fruit of the spirit or specifically on joy then. Cognitively I could have imagined joy abstractly, but I couldn’t have found joy to save my soul.
But as grief passes, slowly amidst the pain, we find that joy still lingers there under the surface. The surface that has been splattered with blood or a doctor’s diagnosis or lost jobs or lost relationships or a guilty past eventually begins to clear as we talk to our pastor, continue with our work, worship despite the barriers, and begin to be able to see nature again; eventually the surface clears and we discover the source of our joy is still there waiting for us to see her again.
God is joy and God is mysterious. Joy and sorrow often accompany each other as you can tell from the art – much of it named such. They always say, if you didn’t experience darkness, how could you ever appreciate the light? If you never walked through the valleys, how would you understand the mountaintops? And so, “how can you drink a cup of wine unless it has been through the potter’s fire?” asks Kahlil Gibran.
The Fruit of the Spirit is mysterious. The works of the flesh I understand: selfishness, envy, drunkenness, divisions. But joy, love, patience, these things are mysterious. Gifts of God. Given when we trust, risk, let go of ourselves and allow the Spirit that moved (even at creation) into our lives to move in them.
And so, joy remains. Because truly, tragedy surrounds us everyday. Over a hundred people dead in Bagdad this week. Thousands of victims still awaiting relief from Hurricane Katrina. Millions of children with flies buzzing around their gaping sores and gaping mouths still starve. Billions of people are still losing a war with AIDS. Car wrecks, failed marriages, cancer diagnoses abound every day, every week of every year. But this week we feel tragedy more acutely, we remember it more profoundly and so though we understand joy remains, we also understand how much more precious joy really is.
Because we’ve seen what a lack of joy, an un-peaceful spirit, an unhappy soul has done. It has killed 33 people.
And so tonight we praise God because in the midst of pain we remember joy. Mysterious joy, God given joy. And so as Frederick Buechner describes it, “Happiness turns up more or less where you’d expect it to – a good marriage, a rewarding job, a pleasant vacation.” To which I would add, pain likewise shows up where we’d expect it – in death, in de-humanization, in deception, in disease. But as Buechner concludes, “Joy on the other hand, is as notoriously unpredictable as the one who bequeaths it.” Mysterious God, mysterious Spirit, mysterious pain, mysterious joy.