Monday, March 14, 2016

Why the Sad Face?

The Joy of the Lord is Your Strength
Neh 8:10

     Fiercely she wrapped the woolen cloak of misery around her granite shoulders and stepped into the darkness. Fear that even a hint of a smile would allow the circling wolves to tear her limb to limb, she set her jaw. She would not be weak like the masses. She would not be common that was for sure because it took a special person to suffer the way she did. Her martyrdom escaped her chest with a heavy sigh as she took another step into the mud. Slowly she began sinking deeper into the muck and mire, but she didn't mind. Suffering gave her focus and purpose and suffering felt powerful. The only laugh she allowed was the brittle kind of laugh that dripped with the superiority of someone who has "been there and done that". Someone who knew better than to be happy. She was safe in her misery, weirdly content to be drowning slowly in sorrows that sprung from her mind like a river of mud. She turned her eyes away every time the sun came out. She had no time for light.She was not one for joy. Joy was for simpletons and she was better than all that ...

     Sometimes I wonder if angst got programmed into everyone or just a select few. The image of the tortured artist is pretty romanticized in our culture. Van Gogh and Hemingway are for grown ups and Mr. Rogers is for kids, don't you know? My intention is to write a post on joy, but I keep deleting my words. I do not have one shred of doubt that joy does literally strengthen us and misery saps our strength, but when I finally allowed myself to just write free form what emerges from the depths of my psyche is the cloaked Lady Misery above.  And she seems mysterious and romantic and powerful. When I think of writing a short character sketch of joy all I can think of are those yellow smiley face balls people used to put on their car antennas. I wonder to myself is angst the regional curse of growing up in Austin or is it genetics? Either way the illusion that suffering protects us from suffering is the funhouse mirror in the hall of delusion.

     Joy is so simple and so beautiful  Joy is like a little daisy helpless and just waiting to get trampled on. Misery is the cactus that will bite your ass if you mess with it. These are some of the most primitive thoughts I have about joy and misery. Thankfully I have no greater desire in life than to grow in knowledge and relationship with this mystery we call God. And God clearly says that we are to cultivate joy. Not only that but that joy gives us strength.  Is this as simple as the neurochemicals of fear (miseries umbrella emotion) weakening our muscle fibers? Maybe it is. When we are experiencing joy, our faces and hands tend to soften in turn sending signals to our nervous systems that we can turn down the production of adrenalin and cortisol. I really prefer to blog on the emotional issues that have been resolved in me through grace and practice. Writing a blog on cultivating joy feels awkward like groping around a dark room.  But aren't we all really groping around our own darkrooms. looking for light? Joy is a light in the darkness. Every time we intentionally choose to simle, to look for the good, to cultivate joy, we move closer to God.

     This is the journey from darkness into light and it does not happen by accident. There must be firm intention to question your misery and tend to your joy. If you are feeling like a victim you are enabling misery. If  you think someone has offended you you are enabling misery. If you are scared of people not like you, you are enabling misery. Trying to act "cool" is a subtle form of enabling misery (thanks Austin!). As ackward as it feels for me to write this post I am going to publish it because I suspect that right now a lot of my fellow countrymen are enabling their own misery and if the simple message that joy is true strength reaches just one person then I'm happy to feel this vulnerability.

     Slowly step by step she walked into the Light. Then all at once feeling the soft warmth on her face she dropped the heavy cloak and laughter carried her away on the wind. As she soared closer to the sun her skin turned golden and a melody composed of giggles and snorts burst forth from her silly face. And God was pleased and sent her a cup of strength in exchange for her joyful song ...