We must risk delight

Advent 3 Texts: Isaiah 61: 1-4; Psalm 126

Here’s my confession on this Sunday whose theme is Joy: it causes me to stumble … I almost don’t know what to say. Who am I to suggest we turn our hearts and minds to joy when there is likely enough heartache right here in this room, let alone our world, to undo us.

Here’s I think what happens to me: I let myself imagine that it feels like a slap in the face to anyone whose heart is breaking for me to even hint of joy … like I’m being oblivious or uncaring.
Now if sorrow was our theme … that’s a whole other matter. I can go there, quite easily. It’s not that I come from sorrow, as though that’s my true home, but perhaps it is true that my heart is tilted in such a way --opened in such a way-- that makes me highly susceptible to the pain of the world.

And then last week I stumbled on this poem [1] that woke me right up. It begins in one way and then takes a sharp turn:

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving somewhere, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.

That’s where the alarm bell reached its crescendo for me … “to make injustice the only measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.”
To be so attentive to the injustice in our world, the suffering, such that the wonder, the miraculous, even the everyday beauty gets only a nod by comparison … is to praise the Devil! What a great way -- an explosive, give-your-head-a-shake way -- to put it!
So I’m hearing this call to make more room in my heart, in my life, for Joy to land.

The other thing this poem surfaces so explicitly is the seemingly odd combination of sorrow and joy together. What if they aren’t duelling opposites but, just as in the way day gives way to night, and night gives way to day, what if the same is true of sorrow and joy … these givens in life that happen to us, that give way to each other, and that come to enfold us, invade us, break and re-make us -- both.

What if making more room for joy became a spiritual practice? And what might that look like? Maybe that’s exactly the wisdom of such a day as this … where the theme of Joy is handed to us … and where it’s not for me to override it with my dis-ease of going there. I don’t even have to worry about who am I to suggest we turn our hearts there, because it’s not mine to suggest! This is the day, the week, in the season that we open the Advent door to Joy!

So this morning, what if we step over that threshold and have a taste of what we find there. Here’s a story from last week …
Some of you will have met Spring … our janitor … a recent arrival from Syria, by way of 4 or 5 years as a refugee in Egypt. Bev, whose been overseeing property matters around here, has been keeping close company with Spring since he began work with us in January. Every week more of his story comes tumbling out.

He remembers with fondness the pre-war days in Syria as a little boy, the staggering beauty of the ancient city of Damascus, his home … he tells of celebrating the end of Ramadan with family picnics in the park and crazy circus rides with cousins and friends. His eyes light up as he describes these times. And then there are the many stories and images of soul destroying grief and horror that rise up to haunt him --often. Bev has offered a tender sacred space for Spring to speak of his life.

His coming to Canada has been a gift in many ways … AND it’s been enormously difficult … in terms of language and loneliness, loss of confidence, and financially, as with so many government sponsored refugees, the family is in dire straits.
2 weeks ago Spring and his older brother were given the promise of a job … wages were such that Mohamed quit his job and the 2 of them showed up at the site -- only to discover it was a total use job.

A week ago, Spring came to Bev, deeply discouraged … “I’m afraid for my brother --that he will kill himself. We need jobs today, tomorrow.” That night Bev had Spring and Mohamed come to the house to help them prepare resumes. The next morning she did an on-line search for help wanted. The following morning Bev picks up Spring and they go to the first place on the list. The Red Barn is hiring for the deli in their new location across the street right here. The drive to the place for the interview becomes the briefing room … “Bev, help me -- what do I say?”
“Tell them that you can bake and make sandwiches, you can clean, you can do dishes, you can serve. Tell them you are from Syria and you need a full time job.”

So now they’re being ushered up to the office of the Human Resources person. Cindy introduces herself, and Spring, himself. Spring tells her why he’s there and what he can do. Cindy studies his resume … and then out of her mouth comes: “We would love to have you join our team. You have a beautiful smile, and a very friendly way. And I see you have some experience.” Bev notices that her language about “Team” doesn’t register for Spring … so she clarifies … “do you understand Spring that Cindy is offering you the job?!” With that his face lights up.
He told me on the phone the next day that at that point he lost all his language -- he was so excited … so surprised.

Driving away, he sticks his head out the window … and out of him comes this rush of sound … this visceral vocalizing that Bev has only heard out of some of the women … this wordless expression of delight and gratitude … and then with both his hands and head out the window he shouts, “Allah, God, heal my Bev’s arm today!!!” [Bev had surgery a few days earlier.]
Then they drove down to James Bay to look at the new location. Springs says to Bev “it’s so new … so beautiful … and right beside my church!” And then he said, “Bev, I’m beginning to have feelings again … and here [my chest] is open!”

“When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy. … The Lord has done great things for us.”
You can hear it, can’t you … and feel it ?

That joy is so not Spring’s alone … but it’s Bev’s too, for “once you find delight in your neighbour’s well-being, you are never far from the road to joy.” [2] In our caring for one another not only are we agents of joy, but joy, in her extravagance, also comes home to us.

This is the thing about joy when it is allowed to register so deeply … it becomes part of us. Sure, it becomes part of our story that we remember … that time when the future opened up just when I thought there’s no way -- or whatever those stories might be for us. But even more, I wonder if when joy becomes part of us, I wonder if it does something to hold the door open for us to welcome its return … such that when we find ourselves once more in that place sorrow or hopelessness, something is there, residing in us, that gives us the courage to imagine that, just as joy invaded our impossibility before, joy will come again.

As we come to light the candle for Joy this morning, how have you known joy? How have you been visited so unexpectedly, so thankfully by joy?

Let’s give ourselves a little space right now to recall even one of those occasions of grace so that each one of our stories might be brought to our candle lighting this morning …a great burst of light bearing witness to our joy.

[1] Jack Gilbert, "A Brief In Defense

[2] Steve Garnaas-Holmes, "Joy" posted on www.unfoldinglight.net