Time of Reflection – Joy

I say the word and I smile; Joy comes from within me in response to all that is good. I am structuring this series of reflection on the Fruit of the Spirit: Love Peace Patience Kindness Goodness Faithfulness Gentleness Self-Control… and Joy, that seems to come when all the others are present in my life.

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I also experience Joy in the presence of beauty. I became serious about photography after I retired, when I wasn’t feeling much joy because I lacked purpose in my life. Photography has helped me recognize beauty, especially in nature. I wonder if moving into street portraits would allow me to see more beauty in the human soul? Until that happens I am finding purpose, and Joy, in sharing my images of beauty and words of hope on my blog.

If I find joy in the beautiful, then it is important for me be able define what I find beautiful. Without question I find beauty in nature; landscapes, flowers, seascapes, sunrises, sunsets, paths in the woods. Is there also beauty in death – a dead rose, a dead tree? I think so. Does this beauty bring me joy when I see it as an image through my lens?

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I wonder if it is possible to see beauty and joy in the face of human pain and suffering? No, it can’t be there. Pain and suffering isn’t beautiful and should not bring joy – but do I dare say I have see it there? I have seen it in the hope for a better future; maybe Joy resides with Hope. I have felt it when the eyes of suffering meet and there is a glimmer of Joy in mutual understanding. Maybe it is Joy that allows for the silence of compassion. How do I photograph silence except through an image where you have also experienced silence – and Joy.

I have never asked anyone how they experience Joy, and the more I think about it the more elusive it becomes – except I know when it is present. I feel it now, as I am finishing up this post; with my husband reading the paper, a cup of coffee at my side, looking forward to the beautiful music of our church service and breakfast afterwards at our favorite morning restaurant. I feel it in the center of my chest – not too deep and directly connected to a gentle smile.

Joy holds a lot of mystery for me, I don’t understand it. Maybe I don’t want to understand – I just want to enjoy it and wish lots of it for you. Maybe you will let me know what brings you joy and what it feels like for you. If I have inspired you to do a post, please leave us a link.

Time of Reflection: Love

mt ranier 031I just finished reading The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson. The main character is an orphan in North Korea, a group of people who are looked down on, not cherished, unlovable. It has been very hard moving my mind to other subjects – especially this Lenten post on love. After reading about living under the totalitarian regime of North Korea, the post I started on love seems shallow and trite.

Adam Johnson did a masterful job of showing me how living within a system of lies and extreme brutality, where the individual is secondary to the state,  can destroy so much that makes us human, including the ability to love. People make themselves forget how to love when children, siblings, friends, grandparents, parents disappear without cause or warning. People forget how to love when the state makes it a self-preserving tactic to turn against family. Johnson pulled me into his story and taught me about the extreme capacity for humans to feel so little compassion and love for others that they are able to systematically inflict unthinkable pain and suffering. I didn’t want to learn this, but I am glad that I did.

Maybe it isn’t coincidence that it was suggested I read this novel as I was thinking about love for this post. We usually think the evil opposite of love is hate – but Johnson’s story suggests that the real danger is indifference and blind obedience to authority. The type of blind obedience that comes from teaching rote learning of doctrine instead of critical thinking, with a filter of fear. What else must be present to make people so indifferent to the human spirit that they are able to inflict unthinkable suffering without guilt – even with a sense of pride?

The novel shows us this darkness, but is really about the courage and resiliency needed to remember how to love, and most of all the desire deep within our psyche for all that is good. We meet the main character as a boy, an orphan, with no given name, no family identity to guide him into adulthood. His coming of age takes place while struggling against the mind destroying punishments he has to endure, and is informed by what he learns from isolated experiences. We see rays of humanity periodically shine through as he searches for truth and has the courage to speak it. Whatever he has, older and stronger individuals see it and respond with nurturing to keep his body and spirit alive. We see his curiosity about freedom and his desire to share hope. He relates to others with integrity and we witness how they respond. He searches for love.

The God I worship tells me that the greatest commandment is to love God and then to love others (including oneself). I feel like I would need to write a book to define and explain love, but today I am convinced, at its core, is integrity and intimacy. The outward manifestation of integrity seems to be truth and of (emotional, not sexual) intimacy trust. When the main character of Johnson’s novel is asked what love is, he replies that it is sharing one’s secrets with another. Is his answer from within the context of a totalitarian state any different than from within a free state.

The God I put my faith in calls me to love those who are difficult to love; those who are irritating, different, those with power, and the powerless, those who are dirty and smell bad, those who don’t play nice, those who are arrogant. She calls me to love those who have sinned – even those who have acted against me. It is so easy for me to love those I like and trust, so very hard when I don’t.

The purpose of these Lenten reflections is to help me think about how my faith can make me a better person – a more loving person when I am filled with anger, disgust, frustration, distrust. I have seldom had a desire to strike out and hurt these people who are different, but I know how to not see them, shut them out. Do I need to see people who are different, and maybe even distasteful, through a different lens? Do I need to see their face and hear their name? How do I move from an indifference towards those who are different, to the actions of caring?

There is an even deeper challenge. What does it look like to love when I have been hurt; when I have felt an injustice against my being or character. How do I love when I have been humiliated, abused, scorned, or ignored? How do I love those who have taken something from me that is important to my well-being and sense of self? It would be foolish of me to trust them, especially if they haven’t said they were sorry and proven (over time) that I could trust them again.

To see love is to see me giving people another chance,  if circumstances call for it; even if it means making myself vulnerable to further hurt. To see love would be to see me being honest, without judgement or revenge but with gentleness. To see love would be to see me being more concerned about the humiliation, fear, pain, and anger of the other than my own. You won’t always see this kind of love when you look at me, but I have experienced it and this gives me hope and courage and strength. I have experienced the darkness and joy of Lent.

To read where I began this journey click here. I invite you to join me in my reflection on Peace as I prepare for my post in this series. If you feel the desire to write your own reflections on one of these topics, I would enjoy having you post a link in the comments below.

Lent: A Time of Reflection

Reflection of Dark & Light

                                                  Reflection of Dark & Light

During this Christian time of Lent, leading up to one of the two foundational events of our faith, it has been customary to sacrifice something. To give up something for lent – like dessert, or television, or Facebook. I was never able to get into this ritual because — I don’t know, maybe for a lot of reasons.

I saw people do it for the wrong reasons (I need to lose weight so I’ll give up sugar), or because the church said we should (I was never one for blind obedience if it didn’t have personal meaning), or to demonstrate piety (my interpretation of scripture leads me to private piety). Maybe it was because I spent the first half of my life, 50 years, living without because there wasn’t much or because children’s needs came first. I didn’t feel deprived or bitter, it is the way life is. But I sacrificed for 365 days a year, I didn’t see the point of heaping on more self-sacrifice.

There is no longer a need for self-sacrifice in my life, but I still have a hard time getting into the “giving something up for Lent.” This year is different. I have been influenced by several different people, writings from both the living and the dead. A few words here, an idea there. All small, but together they have become a nagging voice I can’t ignore. I usually consider this Divine Intervention. This year I need to do something for Lent.

This chorus of voices has led me to “give up something for Lent;” did you pick up the difference in wording? I am “giving up” that which is most important to my sense of self and my place in the world. I am giving out and raising up my voice, my ability to think and write and photograph the beauty of creation. I am going to speak out as a means of spiritual self-reflection and sharing my thoughts on what makes for spiritual wellness.

If you don’t define yourself as a Christian, don’t hit that unfollow button. My purpose isn’t to bring people to Christianity, especially if your faith is working for you. My purpose is to share with you how my faith informs my living. My purpose is to stimulate your thoughts, spark a little fire in you, so you will join me in posting from your faith perspective. How  wonderful it would be if we all linked together to create greater ideas, deeper faith, more hope, more compassionate living. One person at a time, in unison.

I need structure if I am going to be consistent and follow through so I have chosen the Biblical book of Galatians and the text defining the Fruit of the Spirit. I can’t pick and choose because fruit is singular – a package deal. I will cover all of them, one or two a week. This will take me past Easter but no sweat. My spiritual journey doesn’t end at Easter – it is only the beginning.

My spiritual self-reflections will cover the Fruit of Love Joy Peace Patience Kindness Goodness Faithfulness Gentleness Self-Control. I will write on each one individually, but not separate them because each probably lacks integrity without the others. I hope you will look forward to hearing my thoughts on Love and as you anticipate, I hope you will reflect on what your world view believes about love and how it is reflected in your life. I think I will also need to think about what the lack of love means.

Endnote: My thinking has been influenced by books I have been reading, but the blog that has moved me the most has been the Bardo Group. If you are not already reading their contributions, you might want to check them out.