This week is our last week with the Rev. Tish Harrison Warren’s book Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep. We will be discussing Chapter 12 “Shield the Joyous: Gratitude and Indifference” and Chapter 13 “And All for Your Love’s Sake.”
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or
weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who
sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless
the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the
joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.
1979 BCP 134
Prayer in the Night:
Rev. Warren began her book with her story of her hemorrhaging in a hospital bed in Pittsburg. Her father had just died, and she was suffering from the first of two miscarriages she would have that year. She goes on to write about darkness, both literal and figurative, and how in the darkness our vulnerabilities become magnified. In the next several chapters, she writes how working, watching, and weeping are a collective way to endure the mystery of theodicy (why bad things happen if God is good) and human suffering in general. pp.74-75. And through Lent, we have read and discussed the “taxonomy of vulnerability:” the sleeping, the sick, the weary, the dying, the suffering, and the afflicted.
But. The Christian life is not one of being focused on the darkness, but on the light that shines in the darkness and is not overcome by it. The promise is that we may be sorrowful, but that our sorrow will turn into joy. John 16:20. Weeping may spend the night, but joy comes in the morning. Ps. 30:6.
The church, going back to the New Testament itself, loves to use profound theological terminology. We speak of salvation, justification, propitiation, or the kingdom of heaven. But, these concepts can be boiled down to simple short ideas like love or joy. From the Magi at Christmas to the women on Easter, the gospel message is one of joy. Matt. 2:10, 28:8. In his letter to the Philippians, written while he was in jail, Paul uses the words joy or rejoice fifteen separate times. From the parables where the Kingdom of Heaven is seen as a Great Banquet to the end of Revelation, where neither death, nor morning, nor crying, nor pain, shall exist, joy is our chief end.
Vulnerability of Joy:
Rev. Warren writes, however, that, on this side of the Resurrection, joy is risky, joy takes courage, and joy makes us vulnerable. p.151. Joy requires hope and joy requires trust. To be joyful, we must assume that “redemption, beauty, and goodness, will be there for us, whatever lies ahead.” p.152. In this hope and in this looking forward, we ask that God shield us from all of those things – both internal and external – that seek to rob us of our joy. We are made to be joyous, and we pray that God will preserve this part of our humanity.
Rev. Warren ends this chapter by reminding us that joy must be cultivated. Although joy is a gift, it is also a practice that we must strengthen through its continuous exercise. p.156. In choosing joy we choose to recognize that, as Henri Nouwen says, “that we belong to God and have in God our refuge and our safety and that nothing . . . can take God away from us.” p.156. Joy is not a matter of unrealistic optimism or an intentional looking away from the trials of our lives. Rather, cultivating joy is to see that deeper reality of living in the very presence of God.
The cultivation of joy begins with gratitude. Again, Nouwen says that “Gratitude is joy and joy is gratitude and everything becomes a surprising sign of God’s presence.” p.157. Joy is a matter of opening our eyes and seeing the blessings that surround us. As Paul writes in his opening in Philippians: “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy.” Phil. 1:3. While in prison and constrained from pursuing his missionary activity, Paul gives thanks for the congregation in Philippi, and it brings him joy. And so it should be with us.
Questions and Practices:
Rev. Warren’s suggested questions and practices for chapter 12 are:
1. Has joy ever felt “risky” to you? The author says that, out of self-protection, she often doesn’t let herself feel joy. Does that resonate with you? Why or why not? How do you choose joy in spite of or even because of the risk associated with it?
2. The author says that Christians have a sacramental understanding of reality, which she explains means that “the stuff of earth carries within it the sacred presence of God.” How does this view change how we experience creation and moments of beauty or pleasure?
3. The author says that joy is less a feeling than a muscle we need to exercise. What can you do this week to “put on” or “take up” joy as a commitment and an exercise?
4. The author mentions the Modest Mouse album Good News for People Who Love Bad News. Some people tend to be more melancholy and pessimistic, and others are naturally more optimistic. But pessimism and optimism can both be out of touch with reality, whereas joy is being connected to the hope that the deepest thing in reality is the love of God. To which way does your personality naturally gravitate? How can you grow toward the reality of the Christian hope?
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let all men know your forbearance. The Lord is at hand. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.Philippines 4:4-7