Midweek Faith Lift
Finding Our Joy- Advent
December 21, 2022
Rev. Deb Hill-Davis
Finding my Life-Song
“I remember being a child. I couldn’t play the piano yet and my head was just short of the piano keys. I couldn’t see them. I would put my foot on the reverb pedal and, reaching up, find a note. Then I would find another one that would sound good with the first one. That’s how we live, finding those notes.” - Bono, from the band, U2
“You find your path by listening to your soul, experiencing the sacred and then practicing it until you make it a song that sings you.” – Sue Monk Kidd, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter
Affirmative Prayer: Infinite Presence, I give thanks that there is a sacred melody in each of us. By lowly listening, I am finding my life-song. Now is the time for my solo of joyful expression. Thank you, God, forever. Amen.
I love the description of Bono about how we live….finding the notes that sound good to us, one after another after another! We just continue to put them together to find our own song of joy. This is our Sunday of Joy and it is in the right and perfect place to be the Sunday right before Christmas. For kids and adults, it can be about the joy of getting exactly what you were hoping for on Christmas morning. Even better is the delight of seeing the joy of the recipient of the exactly perfect gift that you have chosen for them!
My sister and I had that moment earlier this fall in Branson when I opened an early gift from her. She had framed the watercolor flowers that I had painted and given her to give back to me as a Christmas present. She insisted that I open it while we were together! I think it was October 25…..early Christmas! And it was truly a holy moment for both of us! I think we both cried, I know I did! It was a moment of deep connection and appreciation and gratitude, the kind that brings true joy. It is a joy that I feel every time I look at my beautifully framed artwork!
Several years ago, during the pandemic year, we had a whole lesson series based on the Book of Joy which was a written account of a week that the Dali Lama and Archbishop Desmund Tutu spent together. And what we learned from that experience is that true joy runs very deep, like a deep well within us. It is something that we have to cultivate in order to have access and experience it as a part of our daily life. Otherwise, joy is a fleeting experience, not a regular condition or state of mind.
That is why Joy is the fourth Sunday of our Advent journey. We began with Hope that moved us to Faith. Anchored in Faith, we are able to find a deep Peace within us. From that place of Peace we are able to give and receive Love and hold the space for Love no matter what. Now, we experience Joy as the side effect of our deep spiritual work, our healing work of forgiveness and repair, of mending the broken bits between us and within each of us.
During some of the darkest, most frustrating days of the Pandemic, finding our joy was really a challenge. I recall sharing that Martha Creek, a teacher and consultant for Unity, said that every day we needed to find something that made our tail wag! That is for sure! It is still true. Whether it is a joke, a funny video, a fun memory, a song….we need to laugh every day and find our tail wagging for joy. My favorite picture of Jesus is the Laughing Jesus that we have hanging in the Community Room.
At the time Jesus lived, daily life for the average person was not terribly joyful. It was a harsh environment and not very nurturing or comforting. One of the reasons Jesus attracted such a following was that he brought not only a message of love and joy but an experience of it to those who followed him. The Christian Scriptures are filled with stories of Jesus healing so many, most of them had been suffering for years. Can you imagine the joy of the parents whose children were healed, or spouses whose loved ones were healed, the blind who could now see and the lame who could now walk? They had to be dancing with joy, for sure!
Jesus specifically tells his disciples that if they abide in him, in his teachings, in his love, their joy will be complete. It is the reason for his journey on earth, so they will understand how it is that they can live in joy, that their joy will be complete. In John 15 Jesus says that he is the Vine and the disciples are the branches. And he continues:
9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.
Later, in Chapter 16, Jesus tells the disciples he will be going away and will no longer be with them. However, he reminds them that he is always with them through his teachings and their ability to love and to follow his teachings. There will be pain in this life, but there is also always joy, which he again says will be complete. In John 16:24, Jesus tells us to ask for what we need in his name, “24 Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.”
In this, our divine/human journey, we do indeed suffer but we are reminded again and again to ask for what it is that we need, ask in the name of love, in the energy of love. Then when we experience our answer, we will have joy. There is NO assurance that we will receive exactly what we asked for, just that when the answer comes, it will bring joy! That leaves space for our observer self to notice in the meantime all the nuances of what and how we have asked! It is this holy trinity of human/divine/observer self that navigates our path to joy!
In the time of waiting and wondering about our answer, what do we do? Well, I think we keep playing the notes on the piano. As we do, we begin to discern the sour notes from the sweet ones as we listen with the heart. That is why music is such an opening to joy. Beethoven wrote “Ode to Joy,” not Ode to Over-Thinking! There is a reason for that….our hearts choose joy, for sure. When you are listening to a gorgeous symphony, you are for sure not “over-thinking” any issue!
Our heart longs to dance, to play and to have fun, to create. When we don’t do that, we suffer and experience gloom! Hence our “White Elephant” gift exchange…..just for fun! There is a big push for demonstrating more kindness in the world right now and it for sure needs it! Don’t underestimate the power of a genuine smile! When you feel joy, delight and happiness, you are at your best. Do those things that bring you to that space, that place of joy and then smile at yourself! And laugh at yourself, too! Life is more enjoyable when we take ourselves lightly, isn’t it?
Our dear friend John Lewis has something to say to us about joy, or as he calls it, “happiness.” In his book, Carry On, there is a chapter “On Happiness” which could just as easily have been titled, “On Joy.” He speaks of our Declaration of Independence giving us the right to pursue happiness. And he calls on the country to live up to its promise so that all people are free to pursue happiness. He says on p.93, “When we move with love and work toward peace, we’re on the path to happiness as people, as a country, and as a world.” And we are on the road to our joy being complete!
What brings me joy is music and dancing and I was delighted to read in his book that John Lewis also loves to dance! He has been video recorded “clapping and snapping” along to the Pharrell Williams song, “Happy,” which seems like a signature song for him! Despite all the strife and suffering of the Civil Rights movement, of his own life, John Lewis found the joy in his heart. That is inspiring to me, to all of us.
Friends, we find the notes that bring us joy one at a time. Our sacred human journey is the journey to joy. There are sour notes, missteps with falls and accidents along the way. But we keep going to repair our hearts, to repair the world. There is an expression in Judaism, Tikkun olam, which means to repair or polish the world. It comes from the Kabballah, which is the branch of Jewish mysticism. When we go within to connect with that which is of love, that which is greater than we are, we cultivate the capacity to know joy, to celebrate and to polish the world.
As Sue Monk Kidd said in The Dance of the Dissident Daughter:
“You find your path by listening to your soul, experiencing the sacred
and then practicing it until you make it a song that sings you.”
May you find your path of joy!