Space for the joy of “gōd-spellen”

“God of peace,
you strive to set within us
a Gospel joy.
It is there, very nearby,
ever renewed by the trusting way
you behold our lives.”

–Brother Roger of Taizé

For today’s blog I wanted to contemplate this prayer by Brother Roger. Brother Roger’s book of prayers entitled “Praying in Silence of Heart: One Hundred Prayers.” This small paperback collection sits on my office desk for when I cannot find inspiration. As a result, Brother Roger occasionally appears in my sermons, blogs, and contemplations.

My copy of Brother Roger’s book of prayers.

This prayer catches me off guard. What catches my attention is how Brother Roger describes God as active. God strives, places, renews, and beholds. We may find joy within us, but it is a gifted joy. We are recipients of a gift. The joy we receive finds renewal in God’s action. We are passive in this transaction. We receive the gospel joy as God makes space in our souls.

I find this description both theologically sound and realistically upsetting. Theologically, God is a giver of grace. Grace is unmerited favor. The Holy Spirit is described in Galatians 5 as bringing about fruit in the lives of the believers including joy. In that passage joy is counted as a powerful fruit of the Spirit. Joy exists alongside the heavyweights love, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Joy is not something that just comes about in life. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit and the Spirit is a gift of grace and love.

Joy is often confused and seen as a synonym of happiness. Traditionally, joy was once something deeper than happiness. Joy was a feast compared to the fast food of happiness. One could be happy for a day, but joy was something with depth and breadth beyond a moment. One of the most irritating memories I have of the holiday season was seeing a poster in a fast-food restaurant asking proclaiming “Joy to the [mass produced and frankly questionable sandwich].” Nearly a decade later, I am still mad at that restaurant for insulting joy. I believe joy should never be used to designate something coming with a side of fries.

Still, I find this realistically upsetting. Why? If this is theologically sound, why be upset? I am upset because I want to force joy into parts of my life. If my wife and I are arguing, I want to force joy into that place of conflict. If my kid is screeching in time with the beating of my pulse through my headache, I want to force joy into my skull alongside peace. If there is a meeting where anger abounds, I want to force joy into that place.

Instead, I must let God renew my joy. I must open my heart and be patient. I must allow the gospel joy to come into my life through God’s work. If I spoke Middle English before around 950 CE, perhaps it would be more clear. When gospel was tied to the phrase go[d]spell (gōd-spellen), it might have been more obvious. Sometimes we must let there be time for the words of the God spell to be spoken into our lives.

So, there’s a prescription offered by Brother Roger. We must let God work in us to find our joy renewed. May we all have the patience to let God renew the joy within us.

Let us Ramble: Contemplations on being Contagious

Once again, I have been drawn into deep thought by my children’s favorite podcast. My kids adore the NPR Podcast Wow in the World with Guy Raz and Mindy Thomas. Last week my kids asked to listen to the podcast while we were running an errand to the grocery store in Johnson City. The podcast was entitled “A Case FOR the Giggles” and revolved around a study out of Georgia State University. The study was on the health benefits of laughter.

The podcast was very amusing. The podcast was full of laughter which spread throughout our van as we drove through the hills outside Binghamton. The podcast also caught my attention when it began to speak about the idea of contagious laughter. Laughter, much like yawning, is contagious. Simply being around another person who is laughing can cause a person to smile if not laugh,

As I contemplated contagious behavior, I began to think about other behaviors which are contagious. The creators of the podcast suggested a social experiment where we look at how other behaviors might be contagious. The study suggestion was to see if people would engage in mimicking your behavior. I thought back through past situations in my life and here is what I came up with:

  • Stress is contagious. If you enter a room and you are filled with stress that stress is extremely contagious.
  • Body language is contagious. If you are in a deep conversation and lean towards someone, they will lean in like you. If you cross your arms and sit back, they may do the same thing.
  • Panic is contagious. If one person begins to panic in a crowded place, things can go downhill quickly.
  • Anger is contagious. I do not go out on Black Friday as a result of this contagion.
  • Greed is contagious. If there are a limited amount of resources and you hoard as much as you can, others will likely follow suit.

I noticed that a lot of the examples I could come up with for contagious behavior revolved around pretty negative things. Yawning, body language, and laughing may be neutral activities, but anger, panic, greed, and stress can be pretty negative. I was contemplating this idea when I thought back to my time at the Academy this last session.

I remembered that when people smiled, grinned, and even made space for each other, the space was transformed, even in the midst of absolute silence. There were a number of periods of silence each day and what I discovered was that silence was not the end of communication. The sense of peace, welcome, and grace filled the room.

So, is peace contagious? Yesterday in my private devotions I was reading through Luke 10:1-12. In that chapter Jesus says the following to the seventy disciples that he is sending ahead of him: (Luke 10:4-7, NRSV)

“Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there that shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move from house to house.”

What if what Jesus is telling the seventy disciples is to be contagious with their peace? He tells the seventy disciples to share their peace widely as they go. Each home they enter should be offered peace. As they preach in these towns, Jesus tells them to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal those who are ill, but only if they are welcome. If they are not welcomed, they are invited to knock the contagious dust off their feet and move on.

What if the invitation to the seventy disciples applies to us? What if we are to offer our peace to people when we enter into their lives? What if we are to begin our relationships with others through the gift of peace? We live in a world that suggests fear and carefulness is the correct response to strange folks. What if the very first thing we are called to do is to offer peace? What if we have been going about things all wrong?

Can you imagine a world where the peace of God spreads like a contagion? Can you imagine a world where it inoculates us from things like fear, hatred, and angst? Can you imagine a place where grace and kindness spread like the joy of laughter? While I do not like being contagious when it comes to a cold or sickness, there is something powerful about the idea of being contagious with God’s grace.

What if all of the fruits of the Spirit were such contagious things? Perhaps the very contagious nature of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control that is why they are described as fruit filled with seeds. I hope they are contagious, because I know the people I know and the whole world could use more of these gifts. May they spread like wildfire among the saints and those people that they love.