19 NOVEMBER 2017
JOYOUSLY OWNING ALL THINGS
My family once enjoyed a vacation in the beautiful
Welsh area of Great Britain. Our daughter was only
three or four years old at the time. At one point
we stopped to visit a castle that had stood since
the Middle Ages. Standing in the courtyard, I was
taking in the grandeur of the edifice and thinking
of all the stories these stones could tell when
I noticed my daughter, lost in another world, blissfully
playing with several small stones on the gravel
pathway. She was delighted with them and could have
cared less about the castle. Hmmm, so much for bringing
cultural experiences to the young! Regardless, that
instant of pure, innocent, childhood bliss has stayed
with me now for some 37 years.
Brian McLaren observes in his book, "Generous
Orthodoxy", that one of the hallmarks of spiritual
vitality is the virtue of joy. The book attempts
to survey a number of different Christian denominations
and note the more positive contribu-tions each has
made. Both the Pentecostals and the Christian contemplative
tradition (mystics/monks) get his vote for being
the most joyful. Pentecostals show joy in their
exuberant worship style. Contemplatives experience
it more deeply within.
It seems to me that any spiritual practice that
promotes joy will also promote development of the
other "fruits of the Spirit" listed in
Galatians 5:22-23. Quiet, contemplative attention
to the present moment seems to form one spiritually
in a way that enriches daily life. I remember, for
example, an autumn afternoon a decade ago when I
walked slowly along Lake Raponda in Vermont. For
one special moment I was mesmerized by the sun's
brilliant rays glowing through leaves that had turned
color and were about to fall. In that moment, I
was one with them and all there was. And I experienced
a special form of joy.
The followers of Ignatius of Loyola (who we might
loosely call a Christian contemplative) said this
about him in the sixteenth century:
"We often saw how even the smallest things
could make his spirit soar upwards to God, who even
in the smallest things is the Creator. At the sight
of a little plant, a leaf, a flower or a fruit,
an insignificant worm or a tiny animal, Ignatius
could soar free above the heaven and reach through
into things which lie beyond the senses."
McLaren ends his section on joy with an observation
about his version of my "autumn leaves"
"I feel (not every single moment, but often)
that I am carrying around this hilarious secret:
that I actually own all things, that all things
are mine - because I am Christ's and Christ is God's,
and God allows me to have things in the way that
Not by having them in my legal
possession but by having them in my spiritual possession
by gratefully seeing them, gratefully knowing and
cherishing them. Those weren't legally my goldfinches
or my sycamore trees or my rocky-bottomed streams
in the park that day, but did anyone on earth possess
them as fully as me that day?"
"If one sees this, and knows this, and has
this, how can one not walk and leap and praise God?"
I think McLaren is on to something here. Try it.
You might like it.
Blessings and peace,
References: Generous Orthodoxy, Brian D. McLaren,
A History of God, Karen Armstrong, © 1993