To Hear and See Joy (Lectio Divina and Psalm 126)

On Sunday, we spent time thinking and talking about joy. Jer talked last week about hope as the certainty we find in God's character, and on Sunday I suggested that joy was a response to God's actions and the activity of God's people congruent with God's character. So hope is certainty that God will act and joy is the response when God does act. Jesus frequently said "those who have ears, let them hear," which, at least in part, means that everyone is capable of hearing but not everyone choose to. Part of our formation is to become people who can see and hear God's activities around us.

One way to do this is through the ancient practice of lectio divina ("divine reading"). Lectio is a practice of listening for God to speak as we meditate on Scripture. Lectio is an invitation to trust that:

  • God speaks.
  • God speaks through Scripture.
  • God speaks to you.
  • God speaks through you.

This week, we practiced lectio divina together and I'd invite you to carry that practice with you throughout the week. Here are some guidelines using Psalm 126 as a starting point.

  1. Find some comfortable space for silence. Read Psalm 126 slowly, listening for a word or phrase that rises to the surface for you. What images or ideas come to mind as you dwell on that word or phrase?
  2. Read Psalm 126 a second time. Focus on the same word or phrase, and spend time reflecting on how that word or phrase speaks to the current reality of life. Think about your week in the context of that word or phrase. What's happened or what's on the schedule that resonates with that word or phrase?
  3. Read Psalm 126 a final time. As you continue to meditate on the word or phrase God has lifted to the surface for you, consider what God might be asking you to do, see, hear, or become in response. What is an invitation, loving reminder or promise God has for you in this?

Let this practice cultivate in us an awareness of God's presence and work in our midst so that we might be people of joy!

Teaching Recap: Joy found in "Letting Go"

In the teaching Sunday we revisited Paul’s relentless insistence that joy is found as we live out the Jesus story in community with one another. Joy might be a strange word to us – an overly religious word with too little traction in the real world. Maybe we need to think of it in other terms. Maybe joy is mirrored in the deep-seated satisfaction that we taste when we’ve done something well. Maybe joy’s light shines through those moments of deep connection with a dear friend. Maybe joy makes itself known in the depth of pride we feel when someone close to us succeeds.

I’ve put a lot of “maybes” in that paragraph. I put them there because too closely identifying our joy with any one experience in this world has the power to turn those good things into false hopes. We experience the goodness of a relationship, or of success in our work, and we subtly begin to mold our stories such that their climactic moments become those fleeting moments of attainment.

Paul makes a bold move in Philippians 3. He takes our stories of attainment and ups them one. Not only was he the ultimate success, he was the ultimate success at doing the very things God told Israel, in scripture, that God wanted people to do.

And this great success left him blind to the work of God. It left him blind to the reality of the Jesus story. It left him playing the part of the crucifying Roman, as he persecuted the church, rather than the part of the self-giving Messiah.

The story of the empire has tremendous power to co-opt even the name and stories of God.

And so Paul reminds us to strive within the Jesus story. To strive for lives that flow from the knowledge that we are God’s children, and to bear this family name is to live the story of the cross.

He reminds us to strive within the Jesus story. To strive for lives that flow from the reality of our identity as it is made known in weekly worship by the Spirit whom we share.

He reminds us to strive within the Jesus story. To strive for lives that actively deny the narratives of scarcity that drive us to consume and compete.

Jesus let go of what was his. Paul let go of what was his. And God calls us to do the same. God calls us to let go, in full trust that giving life to the other, rather than hoarding it for myself, is the way to the life that we try to build for ourselves in so many other ways.

Guest Blogger :: Kate Schwass on Gratitude

Last Week, we explored grumbling and how toxic it is our Oneness and, therefore, our Witness.  To continue the teaching, I've invited some friends from Open Door whom I've watched experiment with thankfulness and in whom I've seen the fruit of joy being produced to reflect on their thankfulness practices & experiments. Here's what Kate writes:

“All unhappiness is derived from comparison.”  I heard this quote for the first time when I was in a theatre camp before my junior year of high school and it has resonated with me deeply ever since.  Think about it...every possible scenario which could make you unhappy really boils down to either you comparing your current state to someone else’s or to what your life was or could have been.  But how do you not find yourself muddling through life unhappy, caught in comparison?  The only true antidote to unhappiness and grumbling is to cultivate a thankful spirit.  

I’ve been actively pursuing a discipline of thankfulness in my life since college.  I’ve intentionally tried to focus my prayer life around giving thanks to God and have held myself accountable to not being whiney or entitled (or at least sounding that way)- especially on social media.  It seemed like a natural step, therefore, to participate in the practice of noting my thankfulness on Facebook each day the month of November..  Reflecting on this time and this practice brings several observations.

1. A discipline of gratitude creates a deep inner shift in my soul.  When I spend my day tallying thanks instead of adding up my complaints, my soul shifts towards God.  My prayers change.  I turn from spouting off complaints and needs to calling out joy, hope, beauty in everyday moments.  I notice the lavender growing outside my office.  A co-worker’s kind words add to an already overflowing cup rather than a desperate need for attention and approval.  My baby nestled her body closely to me makes my eyes fill with happy tears.  My life feels deeper somehow...and yet also more fragile and delicate and filled with beautiful gifts.  Ann Voskamp writes “A million little things will happen this week — and there are always really only Two Choices:  You get to decide whether you want to Complain.  Or whether you want Communion.  Life’s complicated.  That’s clarity: Complain...or Communion.”  I get to choose communion through cultivating gratitude.  

2. Gratitude is for me and it’s for them.  When I tune my conversations towards thankfulness, when I talk about things that are wonderful with my staff, when I point out beauty….complaints die down.  Grumbling ceases.  Conversations start to become about what’s working instead of what isn’t….about solutions instead of problems.  I notice my friends and family chiming in, adding blessings to my list, sharing the beautiful moments from their day.  And I have to believe that something deep shifts in their souls too.  Gratitude is contagious.  

3.  Gratitude changes communities.  At my job, we give “props” or appreciations at the end of every meeting.  We believe in putting the people first, above the material or the task at hand, and so we take time to recognize each other.  And you know what?  Everyone leaves these meetings smiling and feeling a bit more committed to their jobs and our mission.  I leave meetings feeling like I was noticed, that I have value.  I watch faces light up when someone says “I want to give props to…” and they hear their name uttered.  The practice of giving props also changes the character of our meetings.  Because we know that we will be acknowledged at the end of the meeting for how we showed respect, or honored new ideas or advocated for our students, we carry ourselves differently in the meetings.  We hold ourselves to a higher standard.  We think about our core values and try to have them reflected in our behavior.  Our community interacts differently because of gratitude.  

November is over.  The Advent season has begun.  I’m hoping that this spirit of thanksgiving carries me through this special time of year.  I pray that as I continue to tune my heart toward praise that I would find a new level of intimacy in the mystery of a God who came down.