AfterWords: Wending Through Unknown Country (December 12, 2021)
AfterWords is a series of community-contributed reflections intended to further the conversations that begin during Parish sermons.
- To listen to the original sermon podcast this blog is engaging with, click here.
- To be notified via email whenever new content like this is added to The Parish blog, click here.
A 3-minute read
Table Discussion Q: How can we live in the reality of God’s joy in the midst of life’s inevitable disappointments and dissonances?
Boggs-Blog A: Heck if I know.
If you’re looking here for a tidy treatment of Sunday’s Table Discussion question, pull up a chair to one of “life’s inevitable disappointments.” The best I can offer you: a small story, a prayer, and a handful of observations. In other words, a helping of hodgepodge.
So, if you don’t mind a mess, let’s go ahead and crack some eggs—but be warned: I promise you no omelets.
A Small Story
Last week I found myself making a list, not a to-do or to-buy list but a woe-is-I list. I was at the wheel, and I pulled over to text husband-Luke with my inventory of grievances, which included, in chronological order: a funeral, a flurry of literary rejections, the hospitalization of a friend’s child, the passing of my parents’ much-loved dog, and a heartbreaking turn of events in the special-needs wing at daughter Sadie’s school.
I’m filing these complaints, I typed as cars whizzed by. They double as prayers.
Luke replied, That’s a lot for sure, darling. A heavy load.
A Handful of Observations
Heavy, indeed. What to do? I could compartmentalize. Yes! Oh, the efficacy of dropping items in brain-boxes to improve mood! Used in moderation, this is a nifty antidote. But overdose, and along with numbed pain, I face a nasty side effect: all-over numbness.
Maybe it’s the time of year, but numb holds no appeal. And what about “living in the reality of God’s joy”? On the screen on Sunday:
Is the pain you’re trying to exile the actual place Jesus desires to Advent into?
Jordan explained that joy is not a feeling; nor is it naivety. Joy springs from a deep well of wisdom.
By and large, I do not go to the well. I pour another cup of coffee, try to hammer out ways to help, solve, soothe.
But last week, the list was too long. How to help all these hurting people? I have an empathy problem, likely fueled by anxiety. I overdo it. Before Luke had a chance to mention the empathy-excess rabbit hole and bid me not to fall into it—he didn’t, good man—I put down my phone and eased onto the road. I was in one of those infernal roundabouts when I realized Jesus has an empathy problem, too. (Fueled by love, not anxiety.) I can’t outdo Jesus! Often, relief—and revelation—require a circuitous route. As I exited the roundabout, it came: a flash of joy.
This slippery thing called joy never fails to astonish me; at the same time, it feels intimately familiar. It’s akin to déjà vu—wait, haven’t I been here before? How did I get here? Will Waze help me to my find my way back?
C.S. Lewis writes in Surprised by Joy that “Joy,” a word he grants a capital J, is “an unsatisfiable desire which is more desirable than any other satisfaction.” Unlike pleasure, “Joy is never in our power.” He continues, “All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still ‘about to be.’”
No wonder we can’t conjure it up, pin it down. Joy doesn’t belong to us because it doesn’t come from us.
But we classify joy as a character trait. When it eludes us, we feel deficient. We have the keys to the kingdom, after all. Chin up!
But sometimes your soul’s record-player needle is stuck on Simon and Garfunkel…
Hello darkness, my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again.
This is a catchy tune, and it’s looping. Joy has left the building. Is it absent, or just beyond your reach? If you could stop already with the Simon and Garfunkel, is joy there for the taking?
So many questions. May we run—not walk—to the well. Perhaps we’ll learn to make a beeline for it. I have a feeling I’ll be taking a circuitous route.
I’m leaving you with a letter that can easily count as prayer. Its contents are attributed to Fra Giovanni, a Franciscan priest who sent Christmas greetings to a friend in 1513. This is a good one to read out loud at a Christmas gathering, before dinner or after dessert or whenever you can get your dear ones to sit still and listen.
I am your friend, and my love for you goes deep. There is nothing I can give you which you have not got, but there is much, very much, while I cannot give it, you can take.
No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in today. Take heaven!
No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instant. Take peace!
The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. There is radiance and glory in the darkness could we but see—and to see we have only to look. I beseech you to look!
Life is so generous a giver, but we, judging its gifts by the covering, cast them away as ugly, or heavy or hard. Remove the covering and you will find beneath it a living splendor, woven of love, by wisdom, with power.
Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of beauty—beneath its covering—that you will find earth but cloaks your heaven.
Courage, then, to claim it, that is all. But courage you have, and the knowledge that we are all pilgrims together, wending through unknown country, home.