"Weekly Reflections"

Compiled by Allen Thyssen

Dedicated to the Students of NationsUniversity & beyond
"May you learn from both my successes and my failures."


19 NOVEMBER 2017


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" experience.

"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 matters most…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,

Chaplain Allen

References: Generous Orthodoxy, Brian D. McLaren, © 2004
A History of God, Karen Armstrong, © 1993