Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The wearing down of joy

This summer has worn me down.  Not in the way I anticipated, with too much sun and frivolity.  But in an I-never-thought-we’d-be-here fashion.  Yet, here we are. 

After a year of such spectacular filling and learning and revelatory delights, I am found in the valley.  Where the only portion of scripture that is ringing truth into my heart is the psalter.  And the chords which these poems strike are not high and taut with the universal beauty of Christology or soteriology; but achingly and tremulously deep, with a resonating truth for me.  Right here.  In this breath.   

 Les Larmes de Jacqueline (Jacqueline's Tears) Op.76 No.2 / Harmonies du Soir Op.68 composed by Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880), dedicated to Arsène Houssaye.  Performed by Werner Thomas with Münchener Kammer Orchestre; dedicated to Jacqueline Du Pre.

I have always loved the psalms for their intimacy, their naked honesty before God.  Those that flow from the quill not, at least initially, meant for others’ consumption; those are the ones that I find forming themselves in my chest before I even know how to pray on these days.  So many were penned in moments of intense, personal emotion; some as praise that incorporates a [hopeful] complaint, and others as lament ending in worship.  Thus we find there is room for the entire pendulous scope of human emotions, in either at one time.

And so I am here, recalling that yes, the Word of God is meant for teaching, and rebuking, and guiding, and forming.  But it is also a salve.  When too long in the refining fire my soul has been made to linger.  When I am weary of the vastness of my wilderness; when the loop-the-loop nature of my journey has caused me to yearn to lie down in a cool, dark, safe place. 

Therefore, I am dedicating these next few posts to joy.  A focus to which I committed my year; and one from which I do not feel I’ve strayed.  But these next two weeks I will address the abiding joy that is not circumstantially dependent; joy that sustains through the storm, yet is neither forced nor false.  Joy that is big enough to allow for tears and great disappointment, for pain and genuine wounds.  A joy that might not look anything like the common typography of the word.  Because there is a difference between jumping up and down, clapping one’s hands while declaring the Lord’s praises, and only having the strength to lift your face, wet with tears, long enough to say, “Today, God is still God.”  Yet in both, joy resides.  And it is neither sinful nor weak to inhabit the later for a time. Both are equally valuable in His eyes.  Both are attended to with the same Divine devotion and tenderness.  And both are allowed to be expressed in the throne room.       

Let me encourage you, if you are in the midst of your own storm, if you feel you are drowning, you are not.  If only you trust in the Lord.  If you are dancing because the joy inside must be expressed, turn your praises to God and delight in where you are.  But count what we will cover in the next two weeks as preparation.  Tuck the words away, as provision for what may come.  And know that even if the sheen of your delight never dulls, you may be called upon to use these lessons to care for someone who hasn’t the strength to recover their joy.  You may be the one who must help carry them through their storm.

If you have never tried the spiritual discipline of praying through the Psalms, may I suggest that you do?  If this seems too daunting, pick one: a favorite, one you’ve heard taught before, or just open the book and choose the first one you see.  If you can’t connect what you’re reading with your life immediately, move to the next psalm.  There is one that will.  When you find it, pray it.  Replace the second person with your name or personal pronoun (Jen, or “I”, or “me”); replace the third person (“The Lord”) with second person (“You”).  Make it personal.  Talk to God using the words found in scripture; and let the Holy Spirit do the work in between.  Do this for a few days this week; try for at least three.  Write it out; speak it out loud.  Do whatever will make this a conversation between you and God.  About you and Him; about your life right now and your relationship to Him right now.  It may feel stilted at first, it may feel rote; but give it time.  You will find the gamut of human experience within the psalter, and seeing your life reflected back from the Word of God can be one way to experience a new depth of intimacy with God.

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