Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Ceaseless Joy

How do you hold your faith in one sentence? One-sentence summaries of faith are not formulae that reduce how we live faithfully to a few simple instructions to assemble a life. These formulae are often very challenging in living out. But the rendering of a way of faithing into one sentence equips us with a meditation focus and with a heart guide to easily and regularly reference. There are several simple formulae throughout the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures that form the Bible that recall us to living faithfully. One is "Love the Lord Your God with all your heart and all your strength." (Deut. 6:5) Another is “Love the Lord your God and yourneighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27) Another is “Live humbly with the Holy, do mercifuljustice, and love your neighbor as yourself" (Micah 6:8)

Paul, writing to the community in the capital of Macedonia gives us another simple formula to remember, particularly in times of resistance and adversity. He writes. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances” (1Thessalonians 5:16). These might seem like words to a people whose lives are easy, where everyone in the community agrees with them and supports one another, and where there is neither adversity nor iniquity. But the Thessalonians have been having a rough go of it. All of Paul’s uncontested letters are occasional, meaning there is a difficulty for the faith community that Paul is addressing. He’s not writing  a systematic theology, but a practical one, commenting and encouraging around particular challenges.

Like that long ago community, I can too readily fall into a negative way of being when times are tough. I can lose track of what’s good and live in the shadow of trouble, when that trouble might indeed be only part of my life. Yet joy abounds, blessings are present, and I could be celebrating what is good. Doing so becomes a spiritual discipline, a way of continually turning away from permitting iniquity and trouble to control my spirit, and turning toward the goodness and graciousness that is present in holding my spirit and heart together. It isn’t that rejoicing always will mean evil and trials will disappear, but that we need not be ruled by evil in how we live.

For a long, long, long time I defined myself in great part by evil I had endured. It was a bitter way of being. Gradually, over time, I came to understand two truths. The first truth was that by living in bitterness, iniquity was still running my heart and winning. The second truth was that there really was a lot of wonder, grace, and cause of celebration that I was missing by staying stuck in the mire of bitterness. I wasn't being faithful in attending to the goodness present and I was permitting the folks who injured me control my life.

Rejoicing and thanksgiving go together and both are forms of prayer. (Remember the basic prayers: Yes, No, Please, Thanks, When, Why, How, and Wow). When we pray ceaselessly attending to rejoicing and giving thanks it is very difficult to repay evil for evil. Rejoicing and thanksgiving ceaselessly strengthen us, keep us out of being mired in bitterness, and help us be present to others with a full heart ready for compassion, generosity, and steadfast love. 

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