Faith/Spirituality, gratitude

The “Good mood of the soul”

I really wanted to write about sleep this morning. Probably because “spring forward” was 4 days ago and I am extra-tired from waking up in darkness and laying awake, unable to get to sleep at my normal bedtime. However, as I started reading this morning, I noticed a recurring them running through each author’s insights: Joy. So, as it goes in so much of life, sleep will have to wait.

I love how Methodist pastor Anne Robertson explains joy. She says that ancient Greeks described joy (chairo, in Greek) as “the good mood of the soul.” What a full description for such an indescribable sense of being. It’s not a feeling, stirred by kind circumstances and memorable and cherished events. Joy, unlike happiness, can be a state we live in even when actual happiness is impossible. Brene’ Brown says, “I’d like to experience more happiness, but I want to live from a place of gratitude and joy.”

And that seems to be one of the key ingredients to living a life marked by joy; gratitude. I realize this sounds simplistic, but when we keep in mind that “it could be worse”, we will alleviate much of the complaining we do about our current circumstances. When we choose to focus on the good in our lives, or even absence of the bad, we are choosing to live in joy. We don’t have to think very long, to come up with people we know who live or have lived through horrific circumstances and tragedies with an aura of joy radiating from their spirit. Nor do we have to think too hard to bring to mind someone we know who lives in a constant state of ingratitude and joyless-ness, even as they float through circumstances most people would envy. It’s about attitude, and gratitude. It’s about perspective and choosing to see through the lenses that God prescribes, rather than our own smudged, scratched and smeared pair of glasses.

Only with God’s vision see clearly and face the endless flow of problems of this life with good cheer. In His presence we have a joy-a peaceful and restful state of soul and spirit-that no one can take from us (John 16:22) and that no turn of events can threaten.

Joy, it seems, is found most commonly in, well, the common. I remember very clearly my first “outing” when I was finally released to be out in public after my leukemia treatments. I had been neutropenic (having no immune system and susceptible to any and every disease) for weeks and was finally free to leave my house. I went to Hyvee. To a grocery store. And I could not have been more grateful. I was overwhelmed with joy. I had a deep appreciation for the very activity I used to dread; grocery shopping. What had previously been a drudgery, was now a luxury. My perspective had changed. I was fully present and engaged in my day to day, mundane life because I had been rescued from death’s doorstep.

Now…I was lucky. Because it is far easier to have this amazing perspective when you have been taken to the edge of actual death. But it can still be done. And I highly recommend that you learn it today by choice, rather than having to learn it in the pressure-cooker of heartache, tragedy or pain. If we seek joy in the small gifts of everyday living-in the tucking in of a child, the observation of nature, the delightful taste of a well-prepared meal, the aroma of coffee in the morning, the fact that you can drink and bathe with running water, and the thousands of tiny blessings we take for granted-we might actually obtain it.

Happiness is fleeting. It comes and goes with the wind. But joy doesn’t have to be. It can be your underlying “constant”. The stillness of soul that comes from a heart bent toward unconditional gratitude. Without joy, we live deflated and defeated. We pump ourselves up with activity and vacations and entertainment and accomplishments, but when those things wane or falter, we are left lifeless and flat. Our remedy, our prescription, for living in joy, is gratitude.

“Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize

how good things really are.”         -Marianne Williamson

 

Faith/Spirituality

Without Excuse

My son and I made it to California. And in case you are curious about our progress on the afore-mentioned Rosetta Stone Marathon Plan, neither of us know any more German than we did before we left Springfield. Sigh. We made it here is 3 long days, but the hardest day, by far, was the stretch from Topeka, Kansas to Boulder, Colorado. It was 9 hours of nothing: no signal which meant nothing to listen to, nothing to read, nothing to watch and on top of that, nothing to look at (except the plains of Kansas-which equals pretty much nothing. Sorry Kansas.)

This day stood in stark contrast to the following day where we had full signal most of the time and the topography was breath-taking around every windy turn. In fact, it was so beautiful to look at that I didn’t even need to listen to or watch anything. I just wanted to take in the scenery and let it touch my soul. This confounded and I sensed, sort of bothered, my son. He had headphones in and would alternate listening to music or watching movies on his lap top as if he were making up for lost time. He kept reminding me that I was free to listen to the radio or pair my blue tooth to the car speakers. If you happen to be a Seinfeld fan, there is a scene where Elaine’s boyfriend, David Puddy, is flying with her on a trip. As time passes, she becomes more and more irritated that he clearly has brought nothing to do. He just sits in his seat and stares at the seat-back in front of him, contentedly. Eventually her agitation becomes unbearable. She yells, “So, you’re just going to sit there and stare for the rest of the flight!?!?”. He says, dumbly, “Ya, that’s right.” And despite her meager efforts to bite her tongue and mind her own business, she snaps and tells him that she can’t take it anymore and that they need to break up. I was waiting for a similar outburst from Berkeley. It’s possible that I may have put headphones in without pushing play, just to avoid such a scene. Call me simple, but I just didn’t need, or want, to do anything but look around.

Observing nature, especially views that are not ones I see every day, help me connect with God. And that’s really the way He designed it to be. What is seen in His creation is evidence of what is not seen. Romans 1:20 says that “since the creation of the world God’s invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made. So we are without excuse.” He is Spirit, but what He has created represents Him and is a visible stamp of His existence. Being in nature does for me what Yoga is supposed to do for other people; It clears my head and mind, leaving it open to spiritual things.  I am focused on the beauty around me rather than the bills, my job, my to-do list, my weight, my past or my future.

Maybe you are like my husband and are what he refers to as “indoorsy”. when I suggest we go outside to do pretty much anything but travel to another inside location, he has been known to say, “there’s nothing for me out there.” And that’s OK (weird, but OK 😉). But it’s still possible for him, and for you, to appreciate nature. (Through a window and from a cozy, bug-free and temperature controlled indoor environment). Maybe you can’t stare for hours without distraction, but this world is a gift to you. Maybe today, try to see God where you live, through what he has designed especially for people in your particular part of the world to enjoy.

Today I am at the beach in California, so any amateur can find something amazing about that. But even in Illinois from whence I traveled, I can celebrate carrdinals (they don’t have those out here as far as I can tell) and fire-flies and even locusts. I can see God’s hand in the corn fields and sunsets across the flat plains. I can embrace the weather that is distinct to the Midwest-humidity and sub-zero temperatures…

Well, I am not sure I am spiritually mature enough to be grateful for those components of His creation just yet.

In the over -load of life, maybe take time to just observe. Just “listen” to the world without the music or the media. And then thank Him. Thank Him that He put it there so you would see it and know in your heart that He made it just for you to.