Sunday, August 23, 2009

what's missing

as i looked around church this morning during the communion liturgy, the scene was as i would have expected: some concentrating, with eyes closed or focused squarely on the rector; some following the words of the liturgy in the bulletin; some fishing through diaper bags for containers of goldfish or watching a toddler threatening to wander off; some lost in scripture; some distracted by a fly buzzing around a light, a coffee spill, or a whispered conversation. unsurprising.

until my gaze lit upon one particular friend's face. there is only one word to describe what i saw written there: joy. and i was, in fact, surprised by joy, to borrow from the master lewis.

surprised. by joy.

i went looking through some old pictures for that elusive feeling--joy--tonight.

joy. joy in the baby sister he's waited so long to meet.

joy. joy in the "real" thomas he never imagined he'd meet.

joy. well, goofy...but full of joy, too.

joy. joy in those girls, those beautiful girls.

it's been a while since i've felt it. have i ever felt the joy i saw in my friend's face today? joy in sacrifice, in listening to the words our Savior spoke: My blood...My remembrance of Me. have i ever found joy in those words?

it's like a memory i can't quite access: that thing on the tip of my tongue or in some recess of my mind i can almost reach but not quite. the name i can almost see spelled out but just can't get at; the song i can hear but whose lyrics i can't produce. joy. it's been there, i'm sure of it. i can think of dozens of occasions that certainly were joyful, that i surely described as joyful; hundreds more than i have photos to represent.

when the apostle paul was in prison in philippi--a prison (or one whose likeness) i saw this summer--he wrote what is arguably the most joyful book in the Bible. the words "joy" and "rejoice" ring out paragraph after paragraph. the stone-and-dirt hole in an arid, dusty, unforgiving hillside i saw this summer; the place where paul was chained to a roman guard; the spot in which he heard reports--did he hear the sounds, even?--of his christian brothers being fed to hungry lions or being used as human torches: this prison was surely incompatible with joy. surely. was paul surprised, then, by joy? was he surprised when, having described his chains and the distinct possibility of his death, he wrote, "yes, and i will continue to rejoice"? when he exhorted the church to "rejoice in the Lord always. i will say it again: rejoice!"? in prison? persecuted? perhaps never to be free again? "i rejoice greatly in the Lord." again and again. was he surprised by that joy? have i ever felt that joy?

that is the joy i saw on my friend's face this morning, the joy paul describes as "the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want." have i ever felt that joy?

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