Joy Sunday, Gaudete Sunday, the Pink Candle Sunday…whatever you call it, the readings today have a mixed reality message. The rejoicing does not come without a cost. The wilderness and dry land shall be glad. Strengthen the weak hands. Make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear!” The ransomed shall return with singing. The farmer must wait for the precious crops to arrive with patience. We too must be patience and strengthen our hearts. We are reminded of the suffering that the Prophets experienced. The Gospel has John in prison, foreshadowing his death. His disciples go to Jesus asking if he is the One who is to come, and they are told to report back all that they have heard and seen–the blind receive their sight again, the Deaf hear, the lame walk, and the dead are raised. What are they looking for?
Joy is coming but it is not without pain. As I woke up to frigid temperatures this morning, I marveled at the shimmering hoarfrost on the trees. Beauty comes at a price too. I stared out at the winter wonderland warmly in my kitchen, still in my pajamas. An hour later the world was still bejeweled as I walked into church, still wowed by the sparkle. Joy was in my heart, despite the coldness of the air. Once inside, I smiled at a number of friends who were present, each carrying their own painful story in some form. Some had not seen me in awhile as I do not usually attend that particular mass, and returning from receiving the Eucharist, one grabbed my arm, so excited that I was among the earlier mass community. I am home in this place, no matter what service I attend. My joy is deeply rooted in a family that I have cultivated over the decades, carefully and sincerely. I am blessed to be there, celebrating Joy among the pain.
Still on my mind was the movie, Loving, that I had seen last night. What price are we willing to pay for Joy, for Love, for Hope? Based on the true story of a white man named Richard Loving who married a black woman named Mildred illegally, the film tells their journey of desiring to be married and raise a family together despite laws that prohibited it. One of the scenes in the movie is captured by Life Magazine–a moment of simple joy shared between a husband and wife–on a couch, watching a television program, laughing together as he lays his head on her lap. It is truly a stunning moment in the film and made me think of all those intimate moments that lovers share and take for granted. I saw those moments today at mass in other relationships. A child with Down’s Syndrome kept looking to the back of the church for the first few minutes of mass and as her father came up the aisle, presumably after dropping his family at the door and parking the car, she whispered, Daddy!! and jumped joyfully into his arms. Another child snuggled against her mother, smiling. A wife laid her weary head against her spouse’s shoulder. At the end of mass, that little girl with Down’s Syndrome came up and stood by the woman I was speaking with who was holding a baby. Her face was beaming. She loves babies, her dad explained, as I leaned into give him a hug. The other dad heard this and took the baby from his wife and held her in front of the other child at eye level. She reached out and made the sign of the cross on the baby’s forehead with a huge smile. What a lesson in learning we are all capable of blessing one another. Joy moved among us this morning.
During mass, my gaze flickers over the parishioners. Many of the stories I know and lots I have never heard. I do know the trials that have preceded the Joy. I have shared the losses and the gains. I have learned to strengthen my heart with this community and to be patient. I have seen the feeble knees made firm and the weak hands strong. The old adage that you cannot know true joy until you have drunk deeply the cup of sorrow is real for me. This morning after mass, I head back to the hospital to sit with my father for a few hours and then to do some shopping for my mother. Most of last week was the same and I found myself exhausted. My home telephone and internet services were working only intermittently so I could not easily update people through my blog or email. When it was working, I decided that a nap might be a better use of my time.
When I finally arrived home, I hoped for a nap and a chance to finally write a long overdue blog post. I did not have time in the end, as a friend arrived, bearing soup and bread for me, knowing the kind of week that I had had. We sat and chatted for some time. It turns out that her brother had had a stroke since I had seen her last. The story has a happy ending of sorts — he was seen in Emergency by a nurse who chose not to follow protocol and follow her gut. She probably saved his life. My friend and I talked honestly about how fragile life is. We both understand that Joy means a breaking open has happened. A blossoming requires a letting go, a release into the unknown and a trust that new life will come. That Joy does not disappoint.
The past couple of weeks have carried some heaviness to them. As the year ends, I am finding it hard to write my annual Christmas letter, knowing full well if the doctors are right, it could be my last. My brother has been asking if he should come in to see Dad and my honest answer has been no, it is not yet necessary, but there is always a chance I could be wrong. A friend is still recovering from a stroke and the road ahead will be long. Several other friends have some huge sorrows breaking their hearts right now. I have been asked to facilitate an afternoon for those mourning during the holidays and as fragile as I am feeling right now, I said yes. What am I looking for this Pink Candle Sunday? I do not know if I can articulate all the thoughts that are jumbled up in my brain and this post. All I know is that as I stood looking out at the cross on the Catholic girls’ school from my kitchen window this morning, I felt Joy. I kitchen dance in the mornings for a reason. Even in the midst of the sorrow, my knees are not feeble, my hands are strong, and my heart embraces the Beauty of the world in front of me. Like that little girl this morning who anointed my friends’ infant, I want to reach out and bless the world with the sign of the cross. May we all rejoice and blossom.
When have you felt Joy in the midst of your sorrow?
What are you looking for?
Holy One, fill our hearts with Joy as you strengthen our hands and make firm our feet. Help us to rejoice as we break open and blossom. Teach us how to reach out and bless this world, even when we think we do not have what it takes. Amen.