Archive for June, 2010
I don’t pretend to have anything near omniscience, not even down the street from the ball-park of omnipotence, and I’d just wear out my welcome if I was omnipresent, but I do aspire, in a delusional sort of way, towards omni-competence. I like to be able to do a variety of things and do them well; I like the feeling of competence.
Trouble is I need lots of remedial work in so many areas of the art of living, including living each day in joy. You’ve got a couple of basic options when you realize you need help: 1) bluff and act like you’re competent (tried this and mostly you end up looking the fool), 2) act coolly indifferent (“really, how can this be of any importance? Does anyone need to learn this?”), or 3) click on the help button (most of us know how to find the help option in a computer program but have no clue how to access it in life).
For me, one of the best ways to find help is to locate someone who does well what I want to learn. Years ago I wanted to learn rock-climbing and found a friend who did it well. In school, when a student struggles to learn some academic discipline, a tutor is a good gift.
If you struggle to live joyfully, ask yourself: who is the most joyful person you know? Who artlessly lives out gladness each day? Let them be your joy tutor. Watch them, do what they do, ask them about it, learn from them and apprentice yourself to them.
One of the best joy instructors came to Calgary last June and I was so privileged to be near enough to watch him live in joy, not just every day, but full out everyday. He was my nephew David Powell, “the man with the eternal smile” who very tragically died in a car accident last December. But for a few months David spread his infectious joy around the Calgary area and in so doing lives on as one of my joy tutors.
David was a joy-jedi who embodied deep gladness – his steady smile and bright eyes. He showed me what a “joy-first” posture looks like, sucking in life for all it offered. But most important, he knew the source of real joy and so live with joyful abandonment to Jesus Christ.
And get this – David’s final profile update on Facebook, days before he died, was so characteristic, so utterly David: “I want to run, jump and spread life in this world.” I can’t think of a better way to live and die than that, from my nephew, my jedi-joy-master, David.
Here’s a link (http://davidpowell.me/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/Davids-Song2.mp3) to a song that a few friends of David from River Park Church wrote and recorded, weaving these final words into a lovely song. Enjoy it as you think about who might tutor you in joy.
Joy, no doubt, can be experienced alone. I take delight in things Betty doesn’t (e.g. Monty Python’s comedy, Bruce Springsteen’s music, skiing). But I’m noticing how joy becomes wider and deeper and richer when enjoyed in community.
I simply find joy more frequently with others rather than by myself (when I’m left to stew on my thoughts which easily make a south-bound turn). Then there’s the multiplication factor to gladness with others, like we’re building and adding on to one another’s joy. I can laugh out loud at a funny story, but get together with friends to swap stories and the hilarity is infectious. And sometimes it’s just plain unstoppable – I can remember so many times – with family or friends, in class or at church – when no matter how hard I tried to stifle a snicker or hold back a laugh, it just wasn’t possible. The power of laughter can be irrepressible and yet somehow that never happens to me by myself.
I love the African notion of ubuntu (“I am because we are”); it’s a way of life that places the accent on togetherness, that the human experience is best known in community. I think joy is best experienced this way too, that it gets amplified and extended when it is caught up in the company of others.
It may be the best thing for choosing joy is to live ubuntu, simply making the choice to be found with others. Your joy might depend on someone else just as much as their joy depends on you showing up.
Today was one of those perfect summer days in Calgary – sunny, slight breeze blowing, hot enough to seek out some shade but not too hot to be uncomfortable. After a winter that gets stretched out over three seasons, your body starts aching to feel the warmth of the sun. And on a sunny summer day, joy tends to flow generously.
Later in the afternoon, the kids exchanged shorts and t-shirts for bathing suits and start romping through the sprinkler. Then a long line of every sort of container begins to make its way across the lawn – cups, mixing bowls, sand pails, yogurt containers, measuring cups – pretty much anything that might hold water is lined up and filled with water. The twinkle in Owen and Lily’s eyes is an invitation to the first water fight of the summer.
After quietly assembling my arsenal of water-balloons, water is flying everywhere and somehow Dad ends up getting the worst/best of it all. No better way to spend a summer afternoon.
It made me remember the baptism that happened in our church this morning. The little boy being baptized was very eager to explore and feel the water. While his dad held him back, he leaned hard towards the water. I invited him to touch and play with the water which he took full advantage of. starting to splash about in the baptismal bowl and dousing me. I loved the moment, his eagerness to get into the water a picture of my heart’s desire to be immersed in joy.
It was a good, watery day today, drenched in joy.
I’m not sure of anyone who has reflected longer or deeper on joy than C.S. Lewis (aka. Jack), who considered joy “the serious business of heaven.” Here are a few thoughts of his on how joy is really a pointer to a greater glory that our lives are meant for.
“All joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still ‘about to be.'” (Surprised by Joy)
“All joy (as distinct from mere pleasure, still more amusement) emphasises our pilgrim status; always reminds, beckons, awakens desire. Our best havings are wantings.” (Letters of C.S. Lewis)
As you take joy in that Saturday morning cup of coffee, the leisurely read of the newspaper, a morning run or an afternoon romp with the kids, lunch with friends or a good movie at night – whatever that joy is, good as it is, just imagine what greater gladness awaits us in God’s good future.
Ever consider the link between compassion and joy? I love how Frederick Buechner knits the two together. He writes that “Compassion is sometimes the fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too.” I find that so fascinating – that the size of our heart and our capacity to feel another’s pain is also the measure of our capacity for joy. Avoid tragedy and pain and you shrink your capacity to experience joy. It’s that truth again, that joy never discounts or ignores pain but actually becomes stronger, richer, deeper because of it.
I’m thinking of this because there is a giant among us, a gargantuan of compassion in a pint-sized body who is bringing good joy to the world. His name is Stephen Brennan, a 5 year old who is part of our church family. He heard the news of the recent earthquake in Chile and, in that heart two sizes too large for his 5 year old frame, he knew his joy was somehow linked up with those people in Chile. So Stephen gets the brilliant idea: “I want to bike to raise money for people in Chile.”
This past week Stephen made the 22 km. trip from his home to his Dad’s downtown office and in the process connected compassion and joy for a lot of people. His initial goal was to raise $500 but as of today he’s raised over $4000. Check out the story and pictures here http://www.crcna.org/news.cfm?detailid=3556&newsid=2036 – and you can still give and join in the joy if you want (and check out the joy on people’s faces in the pictures).
Stephen’s generated a lot of gladness – in Chile, Calgary and beyond – because of his big heart of compassion, because joy wins out over tragedy.
My prayer today, then, is for God to break my heart for this bruised world and piece it back together, making more room for a greater joy.
In 1931 The Joy of Cooking was first published and set off a movement (and publishing boom) of finding joy in the everyday things of life. Below are real titles of books and blogs about the joy of …
- Cooking (and do invite me for dinner, except if lima bean casserole is on the menu)
- Coffee (now we’re talking my joy language)
- Sex (no more need be said)
- Pi (seems like this could go on forever)
- Photography (can’t match the delight of taking a shot and capturing a magical moment)
- Not working (short term, yes; long term, not so much)
- Yoga (the names of the poses, alone, should bring a smile to most anyone’s face – everyone now, do the downward-facing dog, transition to the one-legged King pigeon pose and finish with the cow face)
- Bocce (screams out picnics and beaches)
- Curling (has to be a Canadian author)
- Beer (beer is the answer, now what was the question?)
- Hockey (self-explanatory to most sane people)
- Pitman shorthand (I remain unconvinced)
- Keeping chickens (try tell this to Calgary city council)
- Mathematics (just ask Gerald K. about this)
- Solving problems (including the riddle of finding joy?)
- Economics (as long as it’s going to spread joy to everyone)
- Pregnancy (except for morning sickness, swollen ankles, back pains, and that last little bit)
- Birth (I thought that was included in the pregnancy thing?)
- Parenting (true, but there are days when …)
- Vegan baking (isn’t the joy of baking in the butter?)
- Scrapbooking (this is a cult, isn’t it?)
- Doing things badly (anything worth doing is certainly worth doing badly)
- Chemistry (what’s more fun than blowing up things or creating lava volcanoes)
- Uncircumcising (I’m not kidding – but don’t think about this one too long)
- Laziness (we could all learn to live a little more slowly)
- Breeding your own dog (but don’t let the kids watch)
- Burnout (I’m not sure I can muster up the energy for this one)
- Writing (you’re reading this blog post, aren’t you?)
- Books (the crack of the spine when first opening a book, the texture of the page, the delight of a well-turned phrase, the opening up of an unexplored world – books are just plain good friends)
- Knitting (but what about all those dropped stitches)
- Ballooning (I take it this is about the air-born vessels and not gaining weight)
- Waltzes, tangos and polkas (I prefer Dancing with the Stars)
- Family camping (the freedom to get dirty, eat outside, pee against a tree, play with fire, get lost in the woods, use a knife, and eat marshmallows at any meal. But please, hold the mosquitoes)
- Work (Dilbert’s guide to finding happiness at the expense of your co-workers)
- Opera (greet someone today in an operatic fashion, let out your inner diva and watch the joy flow)
- Of not being married (following the wisdom of the apostle Paul who wrote, “But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.” That’s 1 Cor. 7:28 in case you don’t believe this is actually in the bible)
- Classical music (can anyone say “Ode to Joy”?)
- Of not knowing it all (yes, there is joy in not having to be God)
Know of any more titles? Pass them along.
Joy is a matter of faith. We mostly think joy to be primarily an emotion; it does touch our emotions, but only secondarily. Joy is derivative; it flows from faith.
So what do you believe about joy? Do you believe a merry heart is actually possible? A lack of joy is often a lack of faith. At times, I’ve believed joy to be naïve, that in a bent world of pain, sorrow is the deeper, truer reality. How many of us believe that gladness is the exception and sadness the norm? If so, have we ever questioned our beliefs for that way of viewing the world?
When I struggle to choose joy, I need to cross-examine what my heart is believing:
- Do I believe God is a cranky, old codger waiting to snuff out the slightest semblance of a smile?
- Do I believe that joy is rare and grief the common lot?
- Do I believe that my current circumstances are all there is, or do I believe in a larger reality called the Kingdom of God?
- Do I believe in God’s pledge to restore and renew all things, that the best is yet to come?
- Do I believe God is tight-fisted and stingy or generous and shamelessly promiscuous with his grace?
- Do I believe that even death does not get the final word, that sadness will pass away and that joy is eternal?
- Do I believe in the power of self-giving love best seen on the cross, that I can give myself away and actually find myself in the process?
- Do I believe that at the centre of the universe is God, a centre of selfless love and joy, and I am invited to join in that constant community of gladness?
Some things in life you will only see when you first believe them. I believe Lord, help my unbelief.