Joy

*I saw raindrops on my window, joy is like the rain. Laughter runs across my pain, slips away and comes again. Joy is like the rain. *I saw clouds upon a mountain, joy is like a cloud. Sometimes silver, sometimes gray, always sun not far away. Joy is like a cloud. *I saw Christ in wind and thunder, joy is tried by storm. Christ asleep within my boat, whipped by wind, yet still afloat. Joy is tried by storm. *I saw raindrops on the river, joy is like the rain. Bit by bit the river grows till all at once it overflows. Joy is like the rain.

“Joy is the gigantic secret of the Christian. The tremendous figure which fills the gospels towers above all thinkers who ever thought themselves tall. The Stoics were proud of concealing their tears. He showed them plainly on His open face at any daily sight, such as the far sight of His native city. Yet He concealed something. Solemn supermen and imperial diplomatists are proud of restraining their anger. He flung furniture down the steps of the Temple, and asked men how they expected to escape damnation. Yet He restrained something. There was something that He hid when he went up a mountain to pray. There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or isolation. There was one thing that was too great for God to show us when he walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was his mirth.”

“The central story of my life is about nothing else.”

“Joy is not a substitute for sex; sex is often a substitute for joy.”

“When I think of ecstasy, my mind goes to a classroom in Bismarck, North Dakota. I was enjoying the lively company of second graders, and had encouraged them to move beyond ‘group poems’ on the blackboard to drawings and poems of their own. During my third morning with them, I reached into the pocket of my skirt, probably for a Kleenex or pencil, and pulled out a tiny scrap of paper. It was entirely covered with squiggles–nothing that even approximated letters. Despite its small size, I could appreciate the effort it had taken to write so densely on that paper. I had a good idea of who had slipped it into my pocket, a shy little boy, who looked at me, expectantly. I smiled to let him know I had found his gift. But there was nothing at all to say; it was a gift of wordless ecstasy.”

“To experience happiness is to experience freedom. No matter what may happen in life, nothing will be able to touch true happiness.”

“Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy” (John 16:22).

“Happiness turns up more or less where you’d expect it to–a good marriage, a rewarding job, a pleasant vacation. Joy, on the other hand, is as notoriously unpredictable as the one who bequeaths it.”

“There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not (think they) need to repent” (Luke 15:7).

“What I can remember with immediacy and vividness are moments of blessedness: sitting with my first baby in the Public Gardens in Halifax; walking through the woods in the mountains I loved; standing in the kitchen being jumped by joy for no reason whatsoever. You can’t arrange these moments; they simply arrive when it’s possible to experience them, if you’re willing to stop for them.”

“As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you” (Isaiah 62:5).   “The Lord your God will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:20).

Integrity

A note from Japan:

We share supplies like water, food and kerosene.  We sleep lined up in one room, eat by candlelight, share stories. During the day we help each  other clean up the mess in our homes. People sit in their cars, looking at news on the navigation screens, or line up to get drinking water when a source is open. If someone has water running  in their home, they put out a sign so people can come to fill up their jugs and buckets. Utterly amazingly where I am there has been no looting, no pushing in lines. People leave their  front door open, as it is safer when an earthquake strikes. Quakes keep coming. Last night they struck about every 15 minutes. Sirens are constant and helicopters  pass overhead often. We got water for a few hours in our homes last night, and now it is for half a day.

Electricity came on this afternoon. Gas has not yet come on. But all of this is by area. Some people have these things, others do  not. No one has washed for several days. We feel grubby, but there are so much more important concerns than that for us now.       I love this peeling away of non-essentials. Living fully on the level of instinct, of intuition, of caring, of what is needed for survival, not  just of me, but of the entire group.

Why was the writer amazed? Is that kind of integrity unusual? Are we skeptical that it could be widespread or lasting?

Integrity is defined as uprightness of character, virtue tested and confirmed, soundness or wholeness, honesty, trustworthiness. People of integrity are not easily traumatized, nor do they stoop to traumatizing others.

N. T. Wright in his book subtitled “Why Christian Character Matters” identifies Captain Sullenberger who guided his disabled passenger plane to a safe landing in the Hudson River as a person of integrity. Due to lifelong habits of discipline and training, the pilot’s calm, cool judgment and determination to do the right thing had become “second nature” no matter the situation. Wright cites findings from brain science regarding development of “moral muscle.” The main thrust of the book shows how Jesus goes beyond Aristotle’s cardinal virtues of courage, justice, prudence and temperance to include humility and love, without which integrity easily goes awry.

Psychologist Erik Erikson identified eight stages in human life with a major conflict in each, the last being integrity vs. despair. Conflicts from previous stages are never completely resolved, and many people do not reach the last stage, old age. However, some become people of integrity in young or middle adulthood. Three Christian therapists, authors of Healing the Eight Stages of Life, read Physician Luke’s description of Jesus as a record of his precocious human integrity: “he increased in wisdom and in favor with God and people” (2:52). The book’s last chapter gives poignant examples including that of Alfred Nobel. When his brother died a newspaper accidentally printed Alfred’s obituary. Shocked to read that he was remembered for making a fortune by enabling armies to achieve new levels of mass destruction, Alfred determined to change his life’s direction before he died. He founded the Nobel Prize to annually reward research and actions that benefit humanity.

Integrity, like all of my Mulled Words, is another beam in the brilliance of God’s Word, closely fused with many others. People of integrity are free of fear and addiction, always growing in hope, joy, love and peace.

This spring I pray for seeds of kindness and integrity (also known in the Bible as righteousness). “The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness”(James 3:17, 18).

Hope

There’s hope as in “I hope so” or “We’re hoping and praying” and then there’s ultimate hope, the kind that’s linked with faith and love.  This hope is not a temporary or quick, no-pain fix. Nor is it “pie in the sky bye & bye.” No, as N.T. Wright explains, our hope is God’s kingdom coming on earth as in heaven (as we pray in The Lord’s Prayer), the resurrection of the body and life everlasting (as we affirm in The Apostles’ Creed). All this begins here and now because Jesus is alive in us by the Holy Spirit.

Signs of Hope are everywhere. Here’s one from Parker Palmer of the Center for Courage and Renewal:

The Civil Rights Pilgrimage had many memorable moments. En route to the airport, Rep. John Lewis told about being severely beaten by some young white men at a bus station, left in a pool of blood. Forty years later, one of those men came to D.C. to ask Lewis’s forgiveness, which was given amid hugs & tears. The Congressman paused, then said quietly, “People can change.” This gives me hope, for others and for myself…

Thousands of websites, movements and agencies use “Hope” in their name. One is the Center of Hope in Dalaba, Guinea, West Africa, where my sister Joyce and her husband work with Christian Reformed World Missions. Another is Healthy Options for People and the Earth (H.O.P.E.) in Houston, British Columbia, Canada. These endeavors are based on ultimate hope. They are fragile because of “principalities and powers” yet solid because of God’s promise: “you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

As I send out another blog this week I pray lines from Psalm 25: “No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame…. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long…. May integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope, Lord, is in you.”

In the words of hymn-writer Georgia Harkness I pray: “Hope of the world, thou Christ of great compassion, speak to our fearful hearts by conflict rent. Save us thy people from consuming passion, who by our own false hopes and aims are spent.”

Grow

We never outgrow our need to grow. Fully alive people are never fully grown-up. They “grow tall in the presence of God, lithe and green, still bearing fruit in old age” (Psalm 92:13, 14).

At age 78 Eugene Peterson, author of The Message Bible, has just published his memoir. Titled The Pastor, it is rooted in Scripture like his 30+ other books, this time to John of Patmos’ Revelation letters to the seven churches.

At 83 Luci Shaw still serves as poetry editor at Radix Magazine and recently published Breath for the Bones–Art, Imagination and Spirit: A Reflection of Creativity and Faith.

These are two among many towering fruit-bearers to whom I look up. This year I’ll be 65, and I’m rejoicing in another growth spurt, feeling my joints flex and spirit rise in yoga prayer. Here’s a poem (or rap?) I wrote around age 60:  Delights of Old Growth

Not weak old but bold, no mold can hold us.       Off the page, out of cages we’re aging beyond rage to sage engagement.   Ranging past pain’s haze we seek sane peace-making ways.       Although we sometimes stumble while fumbling through jumbled papers we won’t grumble but stay humble.   Our new shoots careen away from routines, staying clean and green, growing lean, not mean, learning patience, creating and re-creating.       Being renewed from inside out we sprout fragrant fruitful boughs.       Awake at daybreak we raise praise.   We are neighbors whose labors proclaim Love’s power.       We take needed breaks to maintain our pace; in sweet dream-drenched sleep we release each ache.