• The letter is getting out a day late this week.  I am at Holy Wisdom Monastery for my annual retreat.  And there wasn't time to get the letter edited and sent out before I left Mattoon yesterday.  Hope you enjoy it, nevertheless.
  • My mom is back in the hospital...not sure what is wrong this time, but leading culprits are possible infection from previous hospital/rehab center stays...or too much medication.  She has never started to feel well at all since her by-pass surgery six weeks ago.  

October 7, 2019
If You're Happy and You Know It

If you're happy and you know it:  clap your hands...If you're happy and you know it clap your hands...if you're happy and you know it then your face will surely show it, ...If you're happy and you know it clap your hands!
There are many verses and variations to this 1950s song.  If you're happy, you can also stomp your feet, shout 'hooray,' wiggle your ears, slap your knees, honk your nose, turn around, snap your fingers, nod your head, pat your head, slap your leg, shout 'we are!'  When my little grandchildren start to get bored with me, I set them on my lap and I sing my way through the song and give them a good workout.  
Children need only sing about happiness and joy.  But adults have to think about it.  Thus, Jesus starts his 'Sermon on the Mount' by plunging us into some serious philosophy on the subject (the Beatitudes).  Maybe if someone came along and sat us on their lap and made us sing  the song  and grabbed us and made us do the motions we would get the hang of it, but that's not going to happen.  So let's just ponder the subject for a  bit here.
At the beginning of this past summer I declared that our congregation was going to have a "Year of Joy," reckoning it was worth a try.  It had been a troublesome year in the church: deaths and sicknesses, sagging attendance and finances, differences of opinion and tough decisions...you can't please all the people all the time.  And along with the struggles in the church, I was experiencing some personal struggles: sickness and unemployment in the family...and for myself, faltering eyesight and chronic digestive-track pain.  Divisions in our denomination and poison in our national politics were adding insult to injury.  And so, I just got up one Sunday morning and impulsively and dictatorially announced to the congregation that we were entering a "Year of Joy."
It has been amazing what has happened since I made that pronouncement.  My physical pain increased, my mother had a heart attack, the church's finances tanked even further, and Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi are madder than ever at each other.  
But I think my proclamation is working.  The reason? People  remember what I said and keep saying it back to me.  And I am seeing more and more clearly the  path to joy in our various communities.
It is hard to get a whole
congregation into the swing of joy. Any joyful thing I propose might thrill a few people, but it is just as certain to irritate everyone else.  My joy is not necessarily a joy for others.

For myself, joy is silence and solitude first thing in the morning while indulging in a swig of orange juice and a cup of dark, black coffee...and nobody talking to me.  It is a patch of dark purple tulips in the springtime.  It is the unique aroma of a small church sanctuary.  It is spotting Mars and Venus and Jupiter and the Big Dipper on a cloudless night.  It is a bacon-lettuce-tomato sandwich in the summer.  It is touching the exquisitely fine hair atop a baby's head.  It is the liberating splash of water in a hot shower. It is the announcer declaring, "Cubs win!"
But what brings me joy often clashes with what brings others joy.  I love a good road trip.  But Jie doesn't like long distances in the car.  If she  must  be in the car, she wants to drive and listen to her music on satellite radio.  On the other hand, her music and her driving make me want to open the door and jump out.  And when we eat a meal together, the foods that comfort me and give me joy make her think of an early heart-attack.  Ours, like many marriages, must work and experiment to find some unanimity when it comes to agreeing on joy.
If a mere two people have trouble agreeing on what gives joy, how in the heck can a whole congregation pull it off?  Actually, I think I've figured it out.
We just need to alter the words to that little children's ditty.  It would go like this:   if some else is happy, clap your hands.  If you happen to notice that someone else is happy, you can also slap your knee, shout 'hooray,' wiggle your ears, grow a smile, and announce that joy to the world.  The Bible calls all this hand clapping, shouting, wiggling, and celebrating " rejoicing."  

The causes of someone else's joy do not need to be the same things that cause me joy, but by  rejoicing at the joys of others, I can actually make our environment happier.   Joy is something we feel personally, inwardly, and sometimes secretly.  Rejoicing on the other hand is an external act. Rejoicing is always an  in your face sort of thing.
I refuse to postpone joy until things get better.  Sometimes things don't get better.  And life is too short to let joy be so iffy.  The only way...and a fail-safe way to have a whole group of people experience a year of joy is to follow then this one simple rule:  always rejoice, publicly, whenever you notice that someone else is feeling joy.  God is always faithful to provide the joy, always with someone nearby us.  Our job it to do the rejoicing.

Outside this bit of insight, my only other insight is that churches find joy in children, food, music, and giving a helping hand to others.  If a church doesn't invest in these things...or if a church squabbles over these things...rather than rejoicing in the joy particular forms of them give to others...then it will not be a year of joy. There is a splendid diversity in music, mission, food, and children...and if we can simply affirm the joys these elements give others, we will all be clapping our hands and wiggling our ears.
Now, if you will excuse me, I must get on with this YEAR OF JOY.

 The Sunday letter is something I have done now for over 20 years.  It is a disciplined musing:  mindfulness, memory, and imagination.  I used to write it when I first woke up on a Sunday morning and then share it with the congregation. Now I write it on a Saturday, revise it, and send all of them out by email.This discipline of thinking and writing puts me in the place of describing rather than pontificating.  It prepares me to proclaim the gospel rather than get preachy with the souls who will sit before me.  --JMS


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