Posted by Rev. Daniel Christian on August 12, 2017
My column on Saturday, July 29 titled “Spiritual not religious” got a lot of response. Thank you all for your continued and growing readership. Some of the responses got me thinking about how we grow and mature in our faith and spiritual expressions. We all might be equal in God’s eyes, but that shouldn’t stop us from trying to be more mature and deepen our knowledge and experience within our faith tradition.
I remembered an experience at my former church. A darling woman, 90 years young, five feet tall, 100 lbs. named Marilyn comes up and gives me a big hug. Her forehead bumped into my sternum. Her hands wrapped around my waist. She looks up at me. Her full head of grey hair is pulled back in a pink barrette making her look even more adorable than she already is. She asks me, “Did you see the stars last night?” I thought for a moment and realized that I hadn’t. In fact I never even looked up into the night sky. Instead I was inside watching TV and now all of a sudden I felt a little ashamed of myself. She says, “O they were magnificent.” She goes on, “I slept in the backyard and watched the stars.” I respond, “Excuse me, you slept… all night…in the back yard?” “Yes”, she says with a big smile. “In a sleeping bag of course?” She continued, “My daughter and I slept in the yard all night and gazed at the stars and fell asleep.”
That night I went to sleep and as I prayed I pictured Marilyn and her 60 year old daughter sleeping in the yard watching the stars. A smile washed over my face and I felt a deep sense of joy.
Joy is an essential quality for our faith. Author and Presbyterian minister, Fredrick Buechner has this to say. “Happiness turns up more or less where you’d expect it to — a good marriage, a rewarding job, a pleasant vacation. Joy the other hand, is as notoriously unpredictable as the one who bequeaths it.”
We live in anxious, uncertain and rapidly changing times. It is easy to become consumed with issues, problems, tweets and postings. Joy gets easily crowded out by worry, fear, anger, uncertainty and waiting. Author and filmmaker David Mamet in his 1997 movie, “The Spanish Prisoner” says, “Worry is a payment owed on a debt that never comes due.” Said another way, much of our energy can be spent fretting over the future or upset about the past.
Joy however is wildly unpredictable and happens in the present. When we are able to shift our attention from past or future, we have an opportunity to experience our life as it is being lived.
To better understand joy I turned to Paul’s letter to the Philippians. It is a wonderful book to turn to when we are in anxious times. Plus it is short! Paul is writing to the church in Philippi from Rome. To be more specific he is writing from jail with a capital charge hanging over his head. If guilty, he will be executed. His days are anxious indeed. His letter and message to the Philippians can be summed up in one word! Joy!
Since we live in Mendocino it might make sense to ask “What prescription meds is Paul on and what is he smoking?” Or if you are reading from Marin or Sonoma, “What antidepressant is he taking and how much chardonnay, brie and organic crackers has he eaten?”
With his life on the line, Paul’s faith, expressed in joy triumphs over despair. I am not saying that he isn’t experiencing fear and worry, he probably is. However, that is not what wins the day.
His words are not superficial cheeriness, or perky by any means. This is not some pep talk. This isn’t looking on the bright side. Paul in his time of trial is digging down and tapping into a deep and profound reservoir of joy in what God has done and is doing in this world.
As we mature in our faith we are able to live our life in a deeper way that acknowledges pain and suffering, but we can move through and beyond. We can move and grow deeper into our faith and spiritual expressions.
My wife, daughter and I have not ever slept in our backyard and watched the stars. My daughter has not had a sleep over and slept outside. I think it is about time we change that!
Rev. Daniel Christian is the Pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Ukiah
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