ADVENT/JOY TO BEHOLD
This is the fourth Sunday in Advent. So, this week we center on Joy. The affirmation is: "I remember to savor the joy of anticipation."
So what is Joy? It says in Psalms 16:11: "You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures for evermore."a
Then it says in Romans 15:13: "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."b
So let's do today's affirmation. "I remember to savor the joy of anticipation"
A JOY TO BEHOLD
"Joy" is a word often heard at this time of year, but is it really being felt? I know it can be difficult this time of year for some and with all that is going on in our world, it can be particularly difficult now. But in spite of all of that - actually because of all of that - Joy is our focus!
And what exactly is joy? Well, according to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu in The Book of Joy, joy is deeper than happiness and often comes in unlikely packages.c
So, let's set the foundation for our exploration by making an important distinction between joy and happiness.
As we have discussed already this month . . . .
We are inherently Joy.
We are Joy incarnate.
We are Joy in form . . .
. . . because we are God/Spirit/The Divine in form, and Joy is an attribute of the Divine.
So, again, we ARE Joy. We ARE Joy. Joy is a state of beingness. Joy is who and what we are whether or not we are actually having the feeling of it at any given moment.
Happiness, on the other hand, is how or what we feel - and generally, most generally that is when we get what we want. Now, there's nothing wrong with getting what we want, but happiness based on that is extremely conditional and completely out of our realm of influence or control.
Generally, when things are going well and our way, we're happy. But, when they are not, we aren't. Am I right about that?
Here's how I've put the two ideas together in my way of thinking: We experience the greatest, highest and best feelings of happiness when we have cultivated qualities that activate or stir up the inherent Joy that we are.
Does that make sense? Should I say it again for good measure? We experience the greatest, highest and best feelings of happiness when we have cultivated qualities that activate or stir up the inherent Joy that we are.
According to His Holiness and the Archbishop, there are certain qualities of heart and mind that do this - they call them the Eight Pillars of Joy. This morning, we will stand on four of them and behold joy in a new light. Let's jump in.
GAIN A WIDER PERSPECTIVE
The first is "Gain a Wider Perspective." From The Book of Joy, the Dalai Lama said: "'For every event in life, there are many different angles. When you look at the same event from a wider perspective, your sense of worry and anxiety reduces, and you have greater joy."d
Here's his profound example of that wider perspective. Over 50 years ago, he and his countrymen lost their country and became refugees. But that experience gave them new opportunities to see new things.
The Dalai Lama says that he has had more opportunities to meet with different people, different spiritual practitioners, and scientists. These new opportunities arrived because he became a refugee.
If he had remained at the Potala Palace in Lhasa, he would have stayed in what has often been described as a golden cage. He would have been "The Lama, holy Dalai Lama.' As he was sharing this, he sat up stiffly as he once had to when he was the cloistered spiritual head of the Forbidden Kingdom.
He went on to say that he has preferred the last five decades of refugee life. It's been more useful, with more opportunities to learn and to experience life. Here's what he is quoted as having said:
"Therefore, if you look from one angle, you feel, oh how bad, how sad. But if you look from another angle at that same tragedy, that same event, you see that it gives me new opportunities. So, it's wonderful. That's the main reason that I'm not sad or morose. There's a Tibetan saying: 'Where ever you have friends, that's your country, and where ever you receive love that's your home.'"e
That's a wider perspective.
Dr. Edith Eva Eger is an amazing woman and a Holocaust survivor. Some say she lost everything in Auschwitz, but to her, she gained an understanding and compassion for others that has given her a beautiful life because she took a wider perspective.
She tells a story of visiting two soldiers on the same day at William Beaumont Army Medical Center at Fort Bliss. Both were paraplegics who had lost the use of their legs in combat. They had the same diagnosis and the same prognosis.
The first veteran, Tom, was lying on his bed knotted into a fetal position, railing about life and decrying his fate.
The second, Chuck, was out of bed in his wheelchair, explaining that he felt as if he had been given a second chance in life. As he was wheeled through the garden, he realized that he was closer to the flowers and could look right into his children's eyes. That's a wider perspective.f
Many astronauts have reported that once they glimpsed Earth from space - a small blue ball floating in the vast expanse lacking our human-made borders - they never looked at their personal or even national interests in quite the same way again. They saw the oneness of life and the preciousness of our planetary home. Another example of a wider perspective.
Four powerful examples of a wider perspective . . . in fact we might call it what the Archbishop calls it . . . a "God's-eye perspective," which is the first pillar necessary to stir up the inherent joy within us, and when we stir up the inherent joy within us by taking this God's eye perspective, it calls forth the greatest, highest and best feelings of happiness.
The second pillar is Having Humility. The word humility actually comes from the Latin word for earth or soil, humus - which sounds a lot like, but should not be confused with the favorite dish of any class or meeting here at our center - the chick pea dip called hummus.
Humility literally brings us back down to earth.
The Archbishop tells the story of flying to Johannesburg during the antiapartheid struggle. A flight attendant said that one of the passengers asked if he would autograph a book.
He tried to look humble and modest, although was thinking "thank goodness there were some people who recognized a good thing when they saw it."
But when she handed him the book, and he took out his pen, she said, "You are Bishop Mu-zor-ewa, aren't you?"
The Archbishop also likes to tell the story of three religious leaders who were standing before the altar, beating their breasts with great humility, saying how they were nothing before God.
Shortly, one of the lowly acolytes in the church approached and started to beat his chest, professing that he, too, was nothing.
When the three bishops heard him, one elbowed the other and said, "Look who thinks he's nothing now."
There is a Tibetan prayer that goes like this: "Whenever I see someone, may I never feel superior. From the depth of my heart, may I be able to really appreciate the other person in front of me."
The Dalai Lama and the Archbishop were both insistent that humility is essential to any possibility of joy, as is the third pillar, which is . . .
ENGAGING IN HUMOR
Engaging in Humor
Yiddish Proverb: "What soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul." Laughter releases our innate joy!
The Dalai Lama visited Belfast in Northern Ireland after the Troubles had ended (the Troubles is the term used to describe the more than 30 years of religious conflict in Northern Ireland during the late 20th century).
He was invited to attend a private meeting where victims and perpetrators of violence were present.
The atmosphere was very tense, as the suffering was practically palpable in the air. As the meeting began, a former Protestant militant spoke of how when he was growing up, he was told by other loyalists that what they did in opposition to the Catholics was justified because Jesus was a Protestant and not a Catholic.
Knowing that Jesus was, of course, neither Protestant nor Catholic, but rather a Jew, the Dalai Lama began laughing so hard that it completely changed the atmosphere of the meeting.
His laugh was infectious and when those in the meeting started to laugh at the absurdity of their prejudices and our hatreds, they became open to communicate more honesty and compassionately with each other. Laughter may be the most direct line between two people that we have.
When Jesus tells us to rejoice and be of good cheer, he is pointing to a dynamic truth. The potential for rejoicing is already within us. Joy is a spiritual capacity, and it is our privilege and responsibility to release it.
LIVING IN ACCEPTANCE
And our final pillar for stirring up our inherent joy is Living in Acceptance. In "The Book of Joy," it says: "Acceptance allows us to move into the fullness of joy. It allows us to engage with life on its own terms rather than rail against the fact that life is not as we would wish. It allows us not to struggle against the day to day current."g
There is an amazing scriptural story that speaks to what can happen when we don't accept the "what is" and what can happen when we do. It appears in Acts, Chapter 16, verses 16-40.
The Apostle Paul and company were out preaching, and they came upon a slave girl who was possessed with "a spirit of divination, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling," to quote the scripture.
For days, this girl followed Paul and company around, crying out, "These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation." And this she did for many days.
Paul got annoyed - he got unhappy with the condition, the circumstance, he wasn't in acceptance of the "what is" (the scripture says he was "greatly annoyed") -- and he said to the spirit, "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her." And he came out that very hour.
When her masters saw that she was no longer going to be a money-making novelty, they were VERY unhappy and grabbed Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities.
The girl's masters trumped up some charges against Paul and Silas, which the authorities bought, so they were severely beaten, thrown in prison and put in stocks. This is not a happy situation, is it?
How many of us have ever felt like that has happened to us? Perhaps some of you are feeling it right now, in this room today. You feel falsely accused! You feel like you have been beaten down. You feel imprisoned by a circumstance. You feel bound, shackled by a condition. You know what I'm talking about, don't you?
This all happened because Paul did not live in a place of acceptance. But, as I often say here, I believe in Divine Do Overs. We can have them at any moment.
So, what did Paul and Silas do? They did a Divine Do Over in terms of living in acceptance and stirring up their inherent joy.
They didn't they just sit with their heads hung down, bemoaning their fate.
They didn't talk about how they were totally victimized by the system.
They didn't rail on and on about how unfair life was or how resentful they were for what happened to them.
Nor did they curl up into a ball and rock in depression in the corner.
No, they accepted where they were, but decided to let the innate Joy they were bubble up from them as they chose to pray and sing praises to God, hymns of joy.
Who knows what happened next? There was a great earthquake, so great that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone's chains were loosed and they were all set free. Not just the two of them, but all of the prisoners and even the guard was set free spiritually by having witnessed this miracle!h
They tapped into their innate joy - the joy that has nothing to do with circumstances. The joy that is beyond being happy because this or that happened or didn't happen. And their joy then became a causative agent in their lives. I need to say that again, because it is so profound:
Their joy became a causative agent in their lives!
It's been said that . . .
"Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God."i (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin)
And we cultivate the Presence of God when we:
Gain a God's Eye Perspective
Have True Humility
Realize that Laughter is Good Medicine; and
Live in Acceptance
So, my friends, how obvious is the presence of God in your Life?
We are now going to do the Christmas Truce play. So, if our four soldiers would come forward. The Christmas Truce of 1914 is one of the most remarkable incidents of World War I and perhaps of all military history. Starting in some places on Christmas Eve and in others on Christmas Day, the truce covered as much as 2/3 of the British-German front, with thousands of soldiers taking part. Perhaps most remarkably, it grew out of no single initiative but sprang up in each place spontaneously and independently. Nearly everything described here is drawn from first-hand accounts in letters and diaries of the time.
cHis Holiness the Dalai Lama & Archbishop Desmond Tutu, The Book of Joy
dHis Holiness the Dalai Lama & Archbishop Desmond Tutu, The Book of Joy pg 238
eHis Holiness the Dalai Lama & Archbishop Desmond Tutu, The Book of Joy pg 55
fDr. Edith Eva Eger
gHis Holiness the Dalai Lama & Archbishop Desmond Tutu, The Book of Joy pg 328
iPierre Teilhard de Chardin