Advent Week #3: Signs of Joy

Who needs the latest iPhone upgrade or Facebook to communicate when all you need is to look out your window?

One evening last week I decided to sit in the living room, in the Mama Bear Chair, to read, instead of the snug, and as I turned on the light, I glanced out the window and noticed a sign in our neighbors’ window. Three elementary age boys live next door, and we so enjoy watching their antics, whether they are on their trampoline or selling lemonade in the front yard. They are a delightful family, and we love having them as neighbors.

Back to the sign. Written clearly by a young person were the words, GOT ANY COOKIES?

I started to laugh and so did my husband, when I showed him the sign.

Of course, we sent cookies over to those hungry and desperate boys! We learned it was the youngest boy, Sam, who made the appeal and not just to us, but also to the neighbors on their other side, who are also old folks like us. They responded to the cry for cookies, too.

Soon there was a second sign in the window. “Thank you.” And I put up my own sign, “You are welcome.”

This is the time of the year when we remember the star that guided the Wise Men (Women) to the manger where Jesus was born. We are told in the Gospel of Matthew that when the star stopped, they were “overwhelmed with joy.” The star was a sign of great joy.

That’s how I felt when I spotted Sam’s sign. Overwhelmed with joy. Joy for his innocence and trust –and willingness to ask for what he desired. Joy at being able to meet that desire. And joy in this simple and easy relationship.

You can bet I will continue to check for signs in the window.

Only a few days later this is what I saw when I looked out another window –the beauty of a winter day.

An Invitation: What signs of joy are you noticing? I would love to know.

Advent Week#2: An Invitation to Be Overwhelmed by Joy

The first gift of each new day is the last one of each day: the lights of our small Christmas tree.

The lights accompany me all day long.

I see the lights when I stand at the kitchen counter and chop red pepper and onion for a Mexican taco pie or cherries for the first batches of cherry walnut bread. I see them when I come down the stairs from the garret after an hour of deep sharing and listening with a spiritual direction client. I see them when I walk through the dining room to our bedroom with an armload of fresh laundry. I see them when I sit in the snug, my feet on the ottoman and a book in my hands. I see them when I open the front door after a walk in the neighborhood. I think about the Wise Men who followed the light and when the light of what must have been the most amazing, most dazzling star stopped, they were “overwhelmed with joy” according to the Gospel of Matthew.

I admit I often feel overwhelmed, but not with joy. More often I feel overwhelmed by what I have agreed to do or feel I must or should do. I even feel overwhelmed by all I want to do. Ideas and interests overwhelm me sometimes. And then there is all the pain, the struggles and injustices in the world. How can one not be overwhelmed!!!

But then there are the Wise Men who left their comfortable homes where no doubt servants were ready to handle the everyday tasks of life. They left their responsibilities–advice to give, solutions to offer, leadership to provide, magic to make–and hit the road. They loaded the camels with what they hoped would sustain them, along with the gifts worthy of a new king, but let’s face it, riding on a camel all day couldn’t have been very comfortable. They were mystified by where to find the king and hoped Herod would help, but frankly, he was more intimidating than helpful and they second guessed their decision to consult with him. The wandering continued.

And still the light in all its brilliance moved across the horizon.

Until it stopped, and they were overwhelmed with joy.

And that is my prayer. May I be overwhelmed with joy. Even as I pray for healing of the world and for balm for all those hurt, I pray that I may, too, make room for joy in my heart. May joy be a gift I live and I give.

May you know joy. May you be joy.

May we each be the light.

An Invitation: When have you been overwhelmed with joy? I would love to know.

JOY Comes

Once a week I facilitate a group of writers at my church. We meditate and then I present a writing prompt and we write for twenty minutes. The weekly sessions are not just a set apart time for writing, but have become a kind of spiritual direction group. Contemplatively, reflectively, respectfully, even lovingly, the group listens each other into deeper understanding of their own spiritual journeys.

Preparing for and then being with this group is always a highlight of my week.

Sometimes (often!) I am the one who needs the deeper learnings possible in this kind of sanctuary.

Last week I led them through a process of lectio divina–holy reading or feasting on the word. I gave each participant two pages from one of the editions of the publication Bella Grace. If you are familiar with Bella Grace, you know the sumptuousness of the photography, along with the inspiring essays and quotations. Each of the pages I selected had a single quote, and I passed them out to the writers randomly with no attempt to match writer and quotes. I invited them to focus on one or both of the quotes. Their choice.

Two of the remaining pages were for me. I didn’t self-select a quote for myself either.

When I read the quote on one of my pages, I gasped.

Joy comes to us in the ordinary moments. We risk missing out when we’re too busy chasing down the extraordinary.

Bene Brown

Nice, huh? Well, here’s what you need to know.

I am currently preparing to present an adult forum during our church’s education hour, and the topic is–you got it–JOY!!!!!

Even though I suggested the topic and volunteered to lead the session, I have not been overjoyed about doing this. In fact, I have been a bit of a drama queen about the whole process. For those of you who know anything about the enneagram, I am a 4 and 4s have a tendency to become dramatic when they are anxious about something. I have presented many adult forums in the past and feel so privileged to be able to do that, but there are new challenges this time. Mainly, technology issues–how to present effectively to in-person and at home audiences at the same time. The hybrid model.

Normally, I would create a setting, an atmosphere to experience the topic, to engage with a spiritual practice and to interact with each other. But this new and necessary way of being together limits my usual way of teaching and responding. And Power Point? What’s that? (Yes, I am behind the times.)

When I read the quote in front of me, I had no recollection of reading it before and deciding to include it in the selections for the group. Surprise! Receiving this quote was just what I needed; a reminder to slow down and breathe and to reclaim joy for myself.

In the quiet of the room and in the company of the other writers, I entered the lectio divina process.

  1. Lectio (reading, taking a bite). Get acquainted with the quote. Write down the word or phrase that stands out for you.

Joy comes.

2. Meditatio (reflecting, chewing on it). Read the same passage again. What touches your heart? Allow it to resonate within you. Close your eyes, take those words into your heart and reflect on them. Try to feel them in your body. Write down your reflection.

I feel the first prickling sensation of tears as I sit with this phrase. “Joy comes.” And I notice there is not an “I” in the phrase. Without my asking or seeking or trying to make something happen, joy comes on its own, unbidden. I am reminded that I am a beloved child of God. No matter what. From the very beginning–even before the beginning. What a glorious affirmation, “Nancy, you are a beloved child of God, and joy comes.”

3. Oratio (being active, savoring the essence). Reading the word(s) again, you may feel “so what?” What am I going to do about what I am learning and feeling? Is there a call here? Is this a place for surrender or new level of commitment to deepen your spirituality? Write about your new awareness, thought, feeling or desire.

Be joy and open to joy. Remember all the learning you do when you prepare a new presentation and how that learning deepens because of the interaction with others. Be joy. Open to joy. The most important thing to remember is that joy is an affirmation of God’s presence, God’s love. Not only does God come, but God remains. Ever and always.

In a recent sermon Diana Butler Bass commented that if there was ever a time we need joy, it is now.

Yes. Grief and loss and confusion and uncertainty and fear surrounds us, but still joy comes. In the ordinary. My task is to receive it and reflect it.

4. Contemplatio (resting, digesting and integrating). Once again read the quote. Be aware of presence. This is the time for the prayer of silence, the prayer of the heart. Rest in God, the sacred, the holy.

I feel the drama disappear, at least for the moment, and I relax. I breathe. Make room for joy, I tell myself. Joy comes and needs space in which to shine, to grow, to be.

I expect there will still be technological challenges, but oh, the joy when joy is allowed to flourish.

Joy comes.

An Invitation: Are there words, such as a scripture passage or a lines from a novel or something read in Facebook or even an expression you or someone else uses frequently that beckon you into reflection? I would love to know.

NOTE: Stay tuned for my “Favorite Books of 2021” posts, which I will publish the next two Thursdays–Thanksgiving Day and December 2.

Thank you for reading my blog and sharing my thoughts with others.