Finding joy is difficult in this season of intense togetherness, isolation and stress on our mental health, but I think experiencing it from time to time is a necessary medicine. Joy has a way of lightening my heart, giving rest to my soul. It turns my eyes away from myself for a moment. Both the lightness and reorientation joy offers, no matter how briefly, seem to meet a deeper need in me. I will reflect a little here on God’s joy and savour a few of my own recent experiences of joy.
What brings God joy? In Genesis we savour His pleasure in His created world, including us humans when Moses tells us: “God looked over everything He had made, it was so good, so very good!” (Genesis 1:31 Msg). David explains that God’s delight in him actually moved God to rescue and place him on the throne of Israel (2 Sam 22:20, 1 Kings 10:9). Zephaniah also shares a moving picture of God in the midst of His people, rejoicing over them “with joyful songs.” (Zeph 3:17c). Heaven’s joy couldn’t be contained at Jesus’ birth when the angel was joined by a vast host of others filling the skies over Bethlehem and announcing to the shepherds “peace on earth…” (Luke 2:14:15). We also read that there is much joy in heaven when someone repents, turns back “home” to God (Luke 15:7) Finally, among many enlightening moments of God’s joy is how the heavens opened at Jesus’ baptism and the Father’s voice was heard to say “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” (Matt. 3:17)
So, what has brought me needed moments of joy these days? Birds visiting the birdbath in our backyard and feeding at our feeder. Trees budding and flowers popping up after a long winter. Planning and creating meals for those I love who are in social isolation with me. Talking with friends God has given me on this spiritual journey with Jesus. Being reminded almost daily that His love and affection towards me never wane even when mine for Him do.
Finally, let me share a moment when I was, like CS Lewis put it, “surprised by joy”. Last week the manager at my mother's retirement home sent out an email invitation. She asked us to join in a celebration of a resident who was turning 100! The day arrived and we lined up as one among 30 cars, all decked out with banners, flags, balloons, and some posters created by house-bound children. When the “birthday boy” had been brought to the front-facing fenced-off patio, we all drove slowly by with our windows down and horns blaring. First we passed the main entrance lined with masked health care workers all applauding. My husband overheard one care-giver say “my heart is going to burst!” As we drove slowly by “Bob”, he stood there bowing and blowing grateful kisses at us. What a precious and creative human moment of joy this was. We all had tears in our eyes . This not only brought joy to the precious 100-year-old but also a needed moment of lightness to all of us including the staff so weighed down with their responsibilities amid COVID concerns.
What do you see God rejoicing in these days? How does it feel to know He rejoices over you with songs of joy? What recent moments of joy can you recall and savour as medicine for the soul?
Lord Jesus. Thank you for joy, fruit of your Spirit. Grace us with joy that lifts our heaviness. Re-orient us to yourself and your love. Bring joy to our hearts at some of the beautiful moments you give in prayer and in life. May your joy be evident in this your needy world.
I am beginning to grasp how important Jesus’ offer of peace was to His disciples, is to me. His peace is deeply freeing.
When Jesus miraculously appeared before His eleven disciples, he said: “Peace be with you” (John 20:19). This was much on His heart as something they needed. He had spoken to them of peace before including at the Last Supper ( John 16:33). The disciples were so fearful of the authorities that they were hiding away, behind bolted doors. Neither the locks nor their fears kept Jesus from joining His friends where they were. It was there that He greeted them with the profound words: “Peace be with you”.
Was Jesus’ offering of peace to them a gift, a blessing or a prayer? I am not sure. It could be all three. What I notice is that this peace is tied both to their fear and to His sending them as the Father had sent Him. The peace He invited them to experience freed them from their fears released them to respond to His commission. Jesus’ peace helped them unlock the doors closed by fear so that they could set being and communicating the good news of Jesus and His kingdom.
As I considered the fear that held the disciples back, I was encouraged to identify some of my own fears that hold me back. I am afraid of failure, of conflict, of others’ disapproval. I am afraid of being pushed around by others to do their will and of being pushed out of my comfort zone. Naming my fears is helpful and lingering personally with Jesus’ words to me “Peace be with you” is freeing.
What is it like for you to notice that Jesus is with you behind the closed doors of self isolation (due to COVID-19) and of fear? How does your heart hear His invitation: “Peace be with you”?
Lord Jesus, thank you for your Word and for the way it points us to You. Thank You that you come to us, in the person of your Holy Spirit, and give us Your peace. Help us to listen to You speak “Peace be with you” to us. Free us from our fears to open the doors to love, and to be sent in love as the Father sent You. Please give us creative and generous ideas of what being released and sent looks like in this (pandemic) season.
The guest room is ready for Jesus and His disciples. The passover Seder is laid out generously to feed all of us friends. We are weary, hungry and not a little anxious. Jesus has been telling us that He is to die at the hands of violent men, and soon. Confused, we wonder if we have gotten it all wrong. Life with Jesus had been so amazing but now it seems all hell is about to break loose.
As we settle in around the table, Jesus asks our host for a basin of warm water. We watch in surprise as He gets up from the table and takes off His robe. Taking on the servant’s role, He kneels in front of each of us and begins to wash the dust off our calloused feet. Speechless, we can hear Jesus’ voice as He talks with each, one after the other. He is in no rush. He makes His way around the room, listening and washing, counselling and wiping. He connects with each as only an intimate friend can.
The room is quiet apart from the sound of water and wiping and whispers. Can it be that this One whose hands heal would touch our tired, dusty feet? How can this amazing teacher who raises the dead lower Himself as a servant to minister so humbly? What moves Him to attend to us, we who are confused, afraid or fiercely independent?
Time goes on, centuries pass and we arrive at another holy week and behold: He lives...
He is here with us today, even in the pandemic of 2020.
He shares with us the struggle of this deeply unsettling time.
He prepares a needed table for us.
He removes His robe and kneels before each of us, His friends.
He holds our attention with eyes full of knowing and compassion.
He listens to each of us with our anxious, self-concerned questions.
His words touch our hearts with the gentleness of comfort.
Words sinking in like water to dry and thirsty places of soul
...as only His Beautiful, Holy Words can
...as only He can,
...and Jesus ministers to us behind closed doors.
I'm so thankful to be “making” the 32 week Ignatian Retreat in daily life with a few friends participating in spiritual direction. Jesus and I are having conversations we have never had before, in spite of my 40 years as a Christian. He is helping me appreciate and love Him more deeply, and He is inviting me to follow Him more closely. The rich guide I am using this year is The Ignatian Adventure by Kevin O’Brien S.J.
This week’s readings and prayers are around Jesus’ pain-filled journey to the cross, timely as Easter approaches, and timely in this pain-filled pandemic season. What He experienced brings tears to my eyes because it’s hard to see my Friend suffering in so many ways, and sobering as I reflected on the reality that it was for my sake. In a similar way, though there are inspirational acts of kindness, it is heart-breaking to hear of those suffering in this crisis and those who react selfishly by judging or hoarding.
I am also working my way through a book that has connected with the Ignatian prayer exercises in a surprising way. Mirror for the Soul, A Christian Guide to the Enneagram by Alice Fryling is full of insights for understanding ourselves, our gifts and our blind spots as relates to each of the nine vantage points. It explores how we each, with Jesus’ help, can grow out of the traps our false selves hold us in to live increasingly in His grace, freed to be our true selves.
Now, back to the Ignatian exercises, lights went on when I was “accompanying” Jesus during the crisis of His life, the week before His death. I couldn’t help but notice the many people who were abandoning, washing their hands of or abusing Him both physically and verbally. I recognised something of myself in their broken responses to Jesus’ suffering, one another and the situation. I wondered what was motivating their heart-breaking reactions and realised that they were acting out of the compulsions of their false selves. Mirroring the nine points of the enneagram, I identified in them the nine negative impulses of: anger, pride, deceit, envy, greed, fear, gluttony, lust and sloth. I sadly see these in my own reactions from time to time.
I was astounded at Jesus loving, honest and forgiving presence even in His suffering. He lived from his beautiful true self right to the end. His responses and actions, in contrast to those around Him, seemed to reflect the nine graces offered to each of the nine types. He appears to respond to his fearful friends and his violent persecutors with: serenity, humility, truth, equanimity, detachment, courage, sobriety, innocence and action. I am humbled that these are exactly the graces He offers me, offers us persistently and patiently as we pursue Him even during this deeply unsettling time.
Lord thank you for helping me notice the compulsions of my false self. Help me to live and love more as my true self...Teach me together with others to respond like Jesus does to the challenges and the needs of those around us.
.This Covid 19 crisis feels overwhelming at times doesn’t it? We are suffering mentally and physically to different degrees. We are impacted individually and globally by daily uncertainty, cabin fever, discouraging news, shortages, fear, unemployment, financial loss, isolation, loneliness, illness, grief and death. All this is really tough to experience, hard for us to see.
I don’t believe God brought this suffering. He is not like that. The Jesus I have the joy of getting to know is not like that. In the gospels I am moved by His attentiveness, compassion, caring and His healing. He did not cause this catastrophe but I believe He is with us in this. He still wants to work His good purposes out in my life. His heart is for me to know His empathetic presence and make me more like Him. He is changing me little by little, to think, feel and act more and more like Jesus (Romans 8:29). I still have a way to go in this process, but I am learning to trust His understanding and patience with me.
Imagine. Imagine what this world could look like with more and more of us living, looking and loving like Jesus? I want to press in to Him together with you during this difficult time. Let’s find comfort in His presence and look for just one creative way to imitate Him today. Let’s remember what Jesus told us, that this world and its tribulation is not the end of the story, John 16:33. God feels deeply with us in this difficult time. He is for us and is not hindered from carrying out His beautiful, kingdom plans. In our difficulties lets keep our eyes open for "Jesus-y" moments, and celebrate.
Thank you for being”for us” and with us in this traumatic time. Transform us slowly by your compassion, mercy and grace. Teach us to live and love like you so that others might know what you are like, find hope in you and follow you together with us.