Does God Expect Joy to Always Look Like Happiness?

The moment I entered my new friend’s apartment, I could tell that Gabby was the life of the party. I burned calories just watching her enthusiastically engage in activity — turning cartwheels, parading her fashion dolls and savoring her fries and fish sticks. Her eyes twinkled with a million thoughts and unanswered questions, which she eventually directed at Siri, when her mom required a reprieve…

I was visiting my homeland of Jamaica when I found out that Joyful Life magazine, a new magazine for women, would carry this essay. Read the full essay here.

Join me on my blog next month for more on my trip!

Tarantella at Sea, Pt 2 — Christ in Our Ordinary Storms

Christ_in_the_Storm3I can only imagine the jaw-dropping experience it must have been for the curator and other staff of the New England museum as they stood, the morning after, March 18, 1990, before the empty frame still hanging on the wall. Rembrandt’s 1663 masterpiece, ‘Christ in the Storm’, had been stolen.

Searching around on the Internet for another of Rembrandt’s works, I came across photographs of the gorgeous piece and the stupendous story of its disappearance.  Rembrandt’s renowned ability to cast light on the subjects of his painting from unapparent sources was evident even in the tiny photos available online. His style produced an eerie animation effect on the roiling waves of the sea, as it spitefully tossed the boat with its thirteen occupants: twelve at their wits end and one, calmly asleep, about to be roused.

Christ_in_the_Storm1The dramatic high-point of the painting for me, if a painting can be said to have one, is the disciple at the prow of the boat, desperately grasping the torn edge of the mainsail. His occupation being to hold it to the mast from which it had been jaggedly torn, separated, along with the rigging which now whipped and lashed wildly above the entire scene in mocking abandon.

Christ_in_the_Storm4To think that an activity that was such a normal part of the everyday life of most of Jesus’ disciples could also just as typically cast them into such an extreme circumstance was a compelling analogy. To these Middle-Eastern fishermen sailing this sea was ordinary life, and the Sea of Galilee was indeed known to go, rather unexpectedly, from glassy serenity to wild bucking tempest. Which is why, had it not been for Jesus’ agenda, they probably would have been safely put in to shore somewhere. How maddening it must have been for them, in light of these facts, to have Jesus calmly snoozing in the bottom of the reeling vessel!

Can you feel their pain? Have you ever been there? I have. Maritime imagery keep speaking, keep calling me out on the water where all my inadequacies become exposed: my lack of tacking maneuvers to sail into head-winds without breaking apart; where anchors seem baseless and rigging ropes whip mockingly useless way over my head and I am left feeling quite like the one disciple trying desperately, by hands and feet, to hold sail and mast together. These also, are the long ordinary times of our lives.

Ordinary time: that second lengthier period between Pentecost and Advent when the glorious truths gleaned and reinforced in the high, holydays of the church’s liturgical calendar, are tried and proven in the normal humdrum, or frantic extremities, of our daily lives. So, it’s normal for children to grow up and move away and for parents to grow old and require care and for our bodies to age and dare us to do today, things so easily accomplished yesterday, without painful consequence. Why then do these ordinary circumstances try us so? Could it be that we were designed for peace? For joy? For rest? Why the unrelenting laws of entropy, the poet’s prediction of mortal man’s expectation of trouble, — ‘as certain as the sparks fly upward’? Murphy’s observation turned law? Sin’s gravity.

But there is a Light shining always, though sometimes from Shrouded Source, that reveals the Truth that rests like ballast at the bottom of the boat of our ordinary times— it’s Emmanuel, for whom we waited; Paschal Lamb, for us crucified; Risen Lord, triumphant over death and Hades; Divine Paraclete, now accessible. Prone in our boat He waits to be invited, waiting to demonstrate that He does care, listening for the fervent or gentle beseeching, for the tug at the hem of His garment or the unabashed seizing and shaking of His shoulder that bears the government of nations and ages. God, in the midst of our ordinary days, invites us to ask, seek and knock — to pray.

Rembrandt chose, wisely perhaps, to freeze frame that moment just before the Lord of Creation commanded the elements of the storm to return to a peaceful calm. Yet how inspiring would it have been to see the whipping rope of that rigging fall gently down to hang limp, reachable and manageable, alongside the now steady mast. How comforting to have viewed the relieved expressions on the faces of the twelve, awestruck, as they observed unruly waves tucking their frothy tails between their aqueous limbs and slinking away to cavernous depths.

376px-Rembrandt_Harmensz._van_Rijn_021

Even so, Lord of the winds and waves, speak to the storms of our ordinary lives: lasso the hounds of war breaking forth from the gates of our nations, threatening to consume our sons & daughters; transform deceived minds that foment chaos in hopes of unveiling a new world order or of revealing a religious messiah whose adherents slaughter the innocent and crucify the faithful. Mend our broken moorings and anchor us again in Truth that does not shape-shift with the times. Heal our storm-tossed bodies, stretched and strained beyond capacity’s design. Help us submit again to Creation’s rhythms and know Your Sabbath rest.

May the thieves of the masterpiece restore it to the viewing world and, more important, may You hear our cry in our ordinary days, as we cast the full weight of our expectation on Your revelation: Christ the King! in the Midst of Our Storms.

 

A Christmas Morning Rout

It is true, what they say, that the most important thing about you is what you believe about God, because that will determine what you believe about yourself, and will thus determine your choices, your life journey, your pursuits — the path you take.

The first chapter of the book of Romans records that God gave people over to a reprobate mind when they chose not to ‘retain the knowledge of God’. Thus, it seems awfully important to be more than casually engaged in this process of keeping a firm grasp on our knowledge of God – His character, His works, His ways, His will.

I awakened this morning carrying out an exercise which has become increasingly important to that end, (as I accumulate years and experience their deleterious effects), that is, harnessing and wrestling with thoughts to bring them in line with the truth of Scripture and God’s self-revelation there contained.

I know it is a common enough human experience to come awake, even on Christmas morning, pursued by fearsome thoughts and dreadful worry, as the day and its responsibilities loom on the horizon even as the rising sun.

The venerable C.S.Lewis himself is oft quoted on this point;

“It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind.”

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

In more recent times, the Christian community has been blest with the work of Dr. Caroline Leaf who, in almost simplistic manner, has done much to usher ‘average Joe Christians’ into an understanding of the inner workings of the physical human brain. Her work has helped to bridge the divide in our understanding between the world of Neuroscience and Christian faith and practice. The result has been an equipping of the saint to do battle with the knotty issues of besetting sins and their nascent location — our stubborn thought patterns. These simple practices have helped many in their journey towards healthy belief, giving them a practical tool to move beyond mere mental assent, or spoken faith, to real progress in sanctification.

I was reminded recently of the truth of this practice, (which Scripture calls ‘taking captive every thought to the obedience of Christ’, 2 Cor. 10:5), as I read a testimony of breakthrough from the blog of a writer friend. She described how she gained victory, over the course of a year, from a major tendency to worry and fret. In this she was aided by turning her thoughts towards a countering truth of Scripture and then physically cupping her hands, as if holding the offending negative thought, and casting it upward, away from herself and towards God as it were. I had been introduced to similar exercises by Dr. Leaf but was strengthened in my resolve to return to the exercise by my friend’s testimony.

This, no doubt, is a walking out of the teaching of the Scriptures that our warfare is not a physical one, against flesh and blood. The principalities and powers we wrestle against do battle in and for dominion of the human mind. Hence our waking moments become our most crucial, and seizing our thoughts early, our most important strategic maneuver if we would win the day.

If we would have, transformed into experience, our spoken belief in a good God who “daily loads us with benefits”, who has “freely given us all things to enjoy”, but who also has wisely provided for our brokenness — which inclines us to squander His good gifts on the lusts of our flesh, our eyes and the willful pride of the human heart, — we would do well to receive this teaching and counsel.

While the science and daily experience make obvious that the longer we live the more unable we become to change old thought patterns and hence old unhealthy practices, let there be no doubt that it is already ‘well with our souls’. These forays and skirmishes are about walking about in the freedom for which Christ has made us free, walking out what He has worked in. Phil.2 :12. So given the fact of our earth-limited lifespan, time is of the essence, as even Scripture warns that most of us will face a day when our earthly faculties will diminish regardless of the security of the glories of our eternal bodies.

“Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them;”

Ecclesiastes 12:1 KJV

As for me, as I came awake this morning wrestling with worrisome thoughts and fears, I turned my thoughts to Scripture’s truths and my heavenly Father’s promises, opening my palms and letting the fear fall out of them. A song of praise flooded in. Rising from the vulnerability of proneness on that battleground, I grabbed iPad and Bible app (hilt & blade?) and used these hands to re-route my thoughts and actions to ones of Hope, and Peace and Joy and Love, this Glorious Christmas morning, whose Worthy Subject has made this Wondrous victory possible. Happy Birthday Jesus! Welcome, today, to the throne room of my heart, my soul , my mind – Your home.

 

 

Jesus Pretty In Me (audio and translation)

Poem
Mi neva know seh Jesus coulda pretty in me
A’ talk fi mi talk
A’ spree fi mi spree
Dis Christ in me, dis hope a’ Glory!
When wi firs’ did come to dis Caribbee
What a speechless place
What a misery
No language between wi captors an’ we
Couldn’t hear Christ in him
Him nuh si Christ in me.
Well as time guh by likkle lingo plot
Else a’ Tower a’ Babel woulda be fi wi lot
Dem establish di slave society,
Likkle lingua franca `tween Backra an’ we:
Him seh, “Yours di field and di great house fi me;
My children are babies, yours a pick-a -ninnies;
Yours di labour, mine di wage.”
Dat deh language neva suit nuh righteous page.
Well time an’ season slowly pass’
An’ di lingo of slavery was done at las’
But den come Miss Queen an’ ‘ar crown colony
So wi drop curtsy an’ try talk like she
We try on, we put off
We put on, we show off
Twis’ an tun we tongue ’til it nearly fork.
Shet up God Image like a bokkle wid a cork.
A’ so we float on down di ribba of life
Meet independence, politricks an’ labour strife
How we tired an’ long fi reach t’idda  side
Long fi hangle life at the brunt a di tide
Wanti-wanti rise ’til we dis fi bus’
Language come out, but a so-so cus’
‘Cause di cork still in place an’ di heat a-rise
We want run di race we want win di prize
“LORD, HAN’ WI DI MIRROR
GI WI COURAGE Fl LOOK
PUSH PASS DI KURRO-KURRO
PRESS INTO YUH BOOK
Mek di Cool Clean Water wash wi soul
Clean out we eye mek we see wisself whole.
Design’ an’ plan’ mek by Yuh owna Han’.”
Mi only jus’ now a-start fi understan’
What a t’ing a beauty Yuh mek mi fi bi
Perfec’ fi reflec’ di God-kind a beauty.
A Holy Aesthetic a tek over mi min’
As mi start relate to a Divine Plumbline:
Every tribe an’ tongue, every nation an’ race
One day goin’ flow to one gathering place
To one Holy Mountain in time an’ space
Perfec’ to reflec’ di Father’s Face
An’ choppin’ one talk – “Amazing Grace.”
– Denise Stair-Armstrong
 @ 7 Feb 1999
Translation
I never thought it possible that Jesus could be revealed in Beauty in who I am
Speaking with my voice, in my heart language,
Released, animating me in freedom, 
This Christ in me, this hope of Glory!
When we were originally brought to the Caribbean lands
No means of heart communication was allowed
Such misery
Our captors hearts and ours were as far apart as could possibly be
I discerned nothing of Christ in his speech
He saw nothing of Christ’s image worthy of addressing in me
As time passed we had to develop some sort of speech allowing functional exchange
Otherwise chaos akin to the Tower of Babel would have been the result
This allowed the development of the slave society,
The established status quo between our slave masters  (Backra) and ourselves:
He dictated, “ The plantation fields are your place and the plantation great house is mine;
My children are fully human babies, yours, not quite, so we will call them ‘pickaninnies’;
The labor of slavery, yours, the income from it, mine.”
Surely that arrangement was not the one communicated by God in His Holy Word.
Well, time & seasons passed, too slowly,
But  the slavery status quo ended at last,
But then came Mrs.Queen (Elizabeth)and her Crown Colony 
So we payed homage, ‘dropping curtsy’ and trying to assume communication that reflected submission to her rule.
We (put on,tried on) – pretended, assumed and ( put off, postured) dispensed with all sorts of societal and cultural norms not our own
Twisted & turned our tongues ‘til they almost split. (Contorting our self-expressions almost to the point of schizophrenia)
Concealing God’s unique image through us, as in a tightly corked bottle.
This is the way we floated on down the river of life,
Acquiring national independence, employing the machinations  of politics and labor laws, to our advantage and disadvantage,
Through all this striving, never really  seeming to  get anywhere (to the other side)
We yearned to handle (experience) life at the brunt of the tide of opportunity (success always seeming just out of our reach).
Frustrated, our longing intensified  to the point of rupture (riots &, social unrest)
Some sort of expression comes out but it sounds more like curses (expletives) than anything else.
We are pressed  by limitations we cannot change, pushed to our extremity, strangled by our sense of powerlessness;
All we want is to taste the fruit of our labor!
“LORD HAND US THE MIRROR
GIVE US COURAGE TO LOOK,
TO PUSH PAST ALL THIS SINFUL BUILD-UP,
DELVING INTO YOUR BOOK.
Let Its  cool, clean water wash our souls,
Purify our sight, cause us to have a vision of ourselves, whole ( in You).
We were designed and made by Your own Hand”;
I think I am beginning to understand
What a thing of beauty You have made me to be,
Being perfected to reflect the God-kind of beauty.
A holy aesthetic is taking over my mind,
I’m beginning to relate to a Divine Plumbline:
Every tribe and tongue, every nation and race
Will one day flow to one gathering place,
To one Holy Mountain in time and space
Perfected to reflect the Father’s face
And communicating like never before in a perfect unified language, that of “Amazing Grace”.
– Denise Stair-Armstrong
              @ 10 Dec 2016
Scriptures 
References that informed this piece:-
Col.1:25b-27
Acts 17:24-28
John 4:4-6
Isaiah 2:1-5