Tag Archives: Joy

Minnesota Minute: A Day on the Town

Today I decided to go for a little adventure through Minneapolis. I don’t have much commentary, except what I will provide for each picture. I can say that today was really fun, and I look forward to exploring the Cities on my days off.

My first stop of the day was at Blick’s Art Supplies where I bought some stuff to start printmaking. I bought linoleum, ink, a roller, some paper, and some other more generalized art supplies. I used my birthday money for this, instead of for interview clothes.

Dick Blick

My second stop, which was a pleasant surprise, was at the Basilica of Saint Mary, the first basilica built in the United States. It is the co-cathedral for the Cities with St. Paul Cathedral, the more famous one. Here are several pictures I took while I was there. Forgive me for the bad quality of the photos; I took them with my phone.

After spending a good bit of time in contemplation in the basilica, I went to my next stop. Birchbark Books is famously supported by Louise Erdrich and houses a huge variety of texts by American Indian writers. The people who work there are very helpful and kind, and the store itself is exactly as quaint and amazing as one might imagine. My favorite part was the confessional that had a sign saying, “Do not enter. We are not responsible for damnation.” Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of the confessional, nor did I get a very good picture of the outside. No worries. I will be going back soon.

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From Birchbark Books, I decided to head for lunch. If you know me at all, you know what I went for. Wings. With a simple google search, I found a place called Runyon’s, which is in the Warehouse District. Since I am new here, I had no idea what that meant. Well, as near as I can tell, the Warehouse District is a mix of businesses, restaurants, and strip clubs. This is what I saw as I neared my destination. You can’t really see the signs as well as I wish you could, but one says Augie’s Topless Bar and the other one is a giant rainbow circle that says Gay 90s. These are clear signs that good wings are nearby.

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I had to drive around a bit to find somewhere to park, and, once I did, I walked to Runyon’s along 2nd Avenue. I passed this:

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And then arrived here:

photo 15

The wings and (I cheated) the Deschutes Obsidian Stout were delicious. I kept thinking that it was really too bad that this bar is so far away from my house, because it felt a bit like Savage’s and the wings were just as good. The bartender, Nick, was pretty awesome and is himself a transplant from New York, so I felt pretty at home in his care. Their blue cheese dip was really good, too, so that’s a total plus. No shoddy, half-cracked blue cheese here. And my wings were crispy, just like I ordered them. Total win for lunch.

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After lunch,I decided to stop into this ecclectic little place I passed on my way to Runyon’s. One on One is the type of place that I’d love to hang out and just people watch. While I was in there I had some strange encounters just off the bat.

An older man said, about my t-shirt, to the woman who was chopping onions for what looked like salsa, “You know why she’s wearing tie-dye, right?”

The onion chopper said, “Why?”

Old guy, who had an opinion on everything that was going on, said, “She wanted to remind me of the good old times, the 60s, when acid was still legal in California.”

I turned to him and said, “You are absolutely right, man. I wore it just for you. I’m glad I could make your day.” And we both laughed.

Anyway, here are some photos from that place with the yummy dirty chai. First the front of the building:

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Next the inside, where the bicycles reside.

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My last task was to go to IKEA. I think I may be the only person I know who doesn’t enjoy this place one little bit. There is too much to look at, and the floor plan is structured like a maze. There is no getting in and getting out at IKEA. However, I did love the variety of cool options of everything they have in their little showrooms. I now know where I will go to buy all of my furniture should I ever live in a tiny house, a shipping container, or a tree house. The magic of IKEA is that it’s like a grown-up’s fairy castle where everything is a just a little surreal. I loved that aspect of it.

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I hope you enjoyed that little tour. Haha.

 

Cultivate Joy: Part Two (St. Bernard)

I am slowly coming to realize that joy is not necessarily an outwardly expressed, chipper, I-am-so-happy-because-everything-is-fine type of feeling or attitude. Joy is an inwardly felt, deep, intense, I-am-so-connected-with-Jesus-I-can’t-help-but-feel-any-other-way-(at this moment)-and-I-can’t-help-but-share-this type of feeling or attitude. And, it seems as if everything I read about joy indicates that it’s cyclic. Of course, the goal is to be in a permanent state of joy, but because we have other human emotions, the permanence is varied depending upon the presence of those other emotions.

For example, according to an article by Sylvie Supper titled “Spiritual Joy in the Works of St. Bernard,” St. Bernard believed that joy is one of four inner movements. The other three are sadness, love, and fear (361). Supper quotes Bernard’s own writing: “If sadness follows fear, it brings despair. If joy comes after love, it brings laxness. Let joy then some after fear, for fear dreads what is to come, whereas joy finds happiness in what is present and possesses the object of a prudent security. Joy must therefore put fear to the test. And a tested fear is nothing but prudence. Sadness must follow joy, for whoever remembers sad things will embrace joyous things with moderation. Thus sadness must balance joy, and a balanced joy is nothing but moderation” (361-2). The part of this statement that resounds with me is this: “Joy must put fear to the test. [. . .] Sadness must follow joy, for whoever remembers sad things will embrace joyous things with moderation.” I find myself telling my students that bad things happens in order to help us recognize the beauty and grace that surrounds us every day, but St. Bernard says that remembering sadness will help us “embrace joyous things with moderation.” What that says to me is that if we remember sadness, we’ll realize that joy is temporary and subject to change. We won’t let ourselves be swept away by joy, but we will realize the beauty of that joy, because we remember the sadness we’ve experienced as well. On this earth we must recognize there will be highs and lows. We should expect them, and remember each to temper the other. Now I feel like I am talking in a circle: joy, sadness, joy again, sadness again.

In order to illustrate the various types or levels of joy, St. Bernard sets up an excellent metaphor involving drinking: a taste is the joy of God we can experience during life, drink is the joy that is experienced by the souls of the saints, and inebriation is the experience of joy at the resurrection of the body (364). In this life, we can only taste; we can’t become inebriated. He quotes Psalm 35: 9, but I think both 9 and 10 help to better explain this idea of the inebriation of joy: “Then my soul shall rejoice in the Lord, exulting in his deliverance. All my bones shall say, ‘O Lord, who is like you? You deliver the weak from those too strong for them, the weak and the needy from those who despoil them.'” It’s as if the speaker’s entire body is steeped in deliverance, and why would that not bring an intoxicating, inebriating joy? “All my bones shall say” I am filled with the joy of the Lord. How many times has my whole body said, “I am inebriated with you, Lord”? Not yet. Not here. St. Bernard, much like John Wesley from the last post, says that inebriating joy will come later, that it’s not this-worldly.

Jubilus cordis is “the very music of the heart,” which is only found when our hearts experience “the deepest and most intimate joy of the soul united with God” (366). This intimacy is given to us through the books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs, and it is felt as if from an intimate couple, such as two individuals who marry or who are deeply, intimately bound. Supper says that this intimacy “is a certain experience of God that communicates to the soul [God’s] sweetness and the joy of [God’s] presence” (366). This reminds me of the song “You Are So Good to Me” by Third Day. The chorus says, “You are beautiful my sweet, sweet song,” which seems like a version of this intimacy with Jesus that’s prevalent in Song of Songs.

Finally, Supper explains that though St. Bernard focuses on the inner workings of joy, joy cannot help but radiate our from us. We should have a desire to share our inner joy with others. So, for Bernard, as for Wesley, this inner attitude becomes an outward attitude. Something we just can’t help but share. I suppose first you have feel joyful inwardly, which is my difficulty. I’m not sure if I should expect this joy that can’t help but radiate to be a knock-me-down kind of joy, or just this occasional sweet, peaceful, sort of pukey feeling I get in my soul when everything seems to be right with God. I think it’s the second one, because it seems to be tempered with fear like in the first part of this post, but I also think St. Bernard thought it was the first one, too. Joy is subtle and joy is blatantly obvious. Basically, joy boils down to, again, a relationship with God. Joy is part of the fruit of that relationship. It’s a part of the fruit I wish I could taste more frequently. I want to be inebriated with joy. Here. Now. I don’t want to have to wait for it. I’m the Veruca Salt of the spiritual fruit: I want it now.

*

Supper provides a nice little glossary of terms St. Bernard uses for joy:

  • gaudium: signifies all kinds of joy
  • laetitia and exsultatio: signify the exultation of those who have found God, opposite of bitterness; confiteor: the praise of whoever gives thanks to God
  • hilaris: one who gives joy, the radiation of the face
  • jucundus: someone who leads another to joy
  • congratulatio and congaudere: shared joy
  • alacritas: fervent and driving joy
  • delectare: delight found in resting in God
  • jubilus: the inner song of the soul united with God

Cultivate Joy: Part One (John Wesley and Mother Teresa)

My first goal of 2013 is to cultivate joy. In my last blog post, I wrote that in order to cultivate joy, I would “do things which me bring me joy. Embrace the random. Enjoy the mediocre. Don’t stress over things I can’t control. Live in the moment and revel in those I spend my time with. Put down my phone or my other distractions and really love and live the moment.” For me those are the beginning steps to cultivating what I perceive to be pure joy. Because I am not the most joyful person, I decided to learn from what others have written about joy. What is joy? How does joy work? Is joy the same thing as happiness? Is joy what some mystics call ecstasy? Is joy something that one must experience every day in order to be considered joyful? I suppose I had (maybe still have) many, many questions about a theological, psychological, and behavioral characteristic I claim I am going to cultivate this year.

I intentionally used the word cultivate for what I intend to do with joy. There are really three types of cultivation. One type is more like refinement, which would require that I already possess some amount of joy that I simply plan to nurture and shape into much more mature, refined joy. This is not the type of cultivation I will be accomplishing. I will be using a combination of the second two types of cultivation: improving by the care or study of joy and fostering the growth of joy.

Much like a farmer cultivates crops in a field or a scientist cultivates specimens in petri dishes, I plan to plant, encourage, maintain, and harvest this joy. I plan to do the backbreaking work of starting from the ground up, digging little holes, planting little joy seeds, growing little joy plants, and then harvesting whatever little joy flowers or fruits grow from those plants. This is a whole new endeavor, and I didn’t even buy crop insurance. I’m not sure this is the sort of thing that can be insured. I’ll either come away with a bouquet of flowers or a peck of fruits from this year of cultivation, or I won’t. The pursuit of joy is mostly up to me and my willingness to work for it. Sounds weird: work for, cultivate joy.

Similarly, much like I have studied for the past few years to cultivate my knowledge of literature, I hope to study to cultivate my understanding of joy. I started by reading four articles, which is of course where I would start with this damn rational mind I’ve been given, but I plan to pay more attention to those people in my life who seem to be joyful. How is it that they can experience joy, when there is so much sadness, so much angst, and so much depravity in this world? Do they maintain certain habits? Do they hold certain attitudes? Do they rely on their spiritual lives, whatever religion or non-religion they may be? How do they seem to be so filled with joy?

Naturally, I first turned to John Wesley for thoughts about joy. Not because he was necessarily a joy-filled man, but precisely because he strove toward joy and sometimes fell short, did I turn to Wesley for wise words about the topic. In the article titled “John Wesley’s Moral Pneumatology: The Fruits of the Spirit as Theological Virtues,” Joseph William Cunningham writes: “The cultivation of spiritual virtue is abstract from community. Believers develop the holy tempers of righteousness, love and peace in relation to their neighbour. The fruits of the Spirit, though inward dispositions of the soul, are always socially oriented” (284). When I read these lines, I had three thoughts. First, I was elated that he used the word cultivated because that’s my word! (:)) Second, I was thrilled that he used the virtue, because when I was writing my goals for this year, I had in the back of my mind Ben Franklin’s thirteen virtues. Third, all theological concepts work best, and are meant to work best, when practiced in community. We are not designed to be solitary beings.

This photo was taken from http://anglicanhistory.org/wesley/. This photo was taken from http://anglicanhistory.org/wesley/.

On a more serious note, I really was elated when I saw these lines, but it was more because it has always seemed that joy is an inwardly focused theological concept; joy is about how I feel, right? The above quote made me think of the many ways in which joy is much more outwardly focused. Though Cunningham doesn’t list joy here in this passage, I can’t help but think joy comes in community, that joy is an “inward disposition” that should be “socially oriented.” I’ve experienced joy in my life, and usually that joy was felt in community. I have been in love, which was joyful. I have won competitions, which was joyful. I have experienced God, which was joyful. I’ve sung spirituals and released my pain and suffering, which was joyful. In every situation, while I was the person experiencing the joy, there were others experiencing it with me. I am not sure I have ever experienced joy alone. And if I have, my first inclination was likely to share that joy.

One reason I may not be the most joyful person is that I abhor those shiny, happy Christians I grew up with. Seriously, you can’t possibly be that happy all the time. Joyful? Maybe. Shiny happy? I doubt it. I was thrilled when I was reminded that Wesley struggled with the concept of continuous joy. Later in the same article, Cunningham quotes Wesley: “A will steadily and uniformly devoted to God is essential to a state of sanctification, but not an uniformity of joy or peace or happy communion with God. They may rise and fall in various degrees; nay an may be affected either by the body or by diabolical agency, in a manner which all our wisdom can never understand or present” (285). In other words, all of those people who told me I had to be happy to show my Christian faith were wrong. My will has been constantly (or nearly so) devoted to God. Only the outward signs of the fruit of the spirit have wavered. We, in this lifetime, cannot be filled with “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). We are human, yes? Perfection is something to be attained.

My quest for an understanding of joy was likely fueled by reading An Unquenchable Thirst. Much like the author Mary Johnson, I fell in love with Mother Teresa when I was young. A drawing of Mother Teresa with the words Living Saints in large, bold letters graced the cover of time magazine when I was about 18 months old. There is no way that image could have impacted me like it did Johnson, but I grew up having a knowledge of saints (likely from my mom’s Orthodox family) and having a certain reverence for Mother Teresa. I read everything I could about her, and I believed I had been a nun in a former life (okay, really I still believe it). There is simply something that appeals to me about living with other women whose thoughts are directed toward God and others; there is something that strikes a chord within me when I think about regulating my day with service and prayer. I have always thought that I might experience more joy in a place that was filled with Christ’s love.

This photo was taken from http://topics.time.com/mother-teresa/. This photo was taken from http://topics.time.com/mother-teresa/.

When I read Johnson’s book, I learned what I knew deep down: sometimes things aren’t what they seem. I had always assumed, until the August 2007 Time Magazine article,  that Mother Teresa was the most joyful woman on earth, and if I believed what Cunningham writes about Wesley’s thoughts of joy she might be: “Joy is a theological virtue implying habitual self-sacrifice and service of neighbour, even in the midst of sorrow and despair. The desire to love and serve is animated by true joy in the Spirit, and cultivated through commitment and practice” (286). Half-heartedly I agree with this. Before I read Johnson’s story, I (maybe) would have whole-heartedly agreed with it. Joy seems to be fed by giving to others, but I worry, now, if giving everything to others renders us not joyful but broken. Theologically, I suppose that very brokenness is where some folks would say that God works when we can’t. You know, the “Jesus works through our brokenness” idea? I am not sure I can buy that line of reasoning anymore, not the brokenness reasoning, but the idea that if we sacrifice and serve, we’ll be joyful. In fact, Wesley himself writes: “Yet it cannot be denied that many times joy is withheld even from them that walk uprightly” (Cunningham 286). Does pouring one’s whole self out into others and loving and serving provide joy? Yes, but not always. No, but sometimes. Maybe.

So, here I am at the end of my first consideration of the cultivation of joy, and I have studied and learned what one person thinks about joy. After thinking about how to cultivate joy, do I feel more joyful? Not yet, but I am hopeful.

The End and the Beginning

New Year’s Eve asks us to look back into the past year in order to assess where we’ve been, and it simultaneously begs us to look forward with hope that our future is brighter than, or at least as bright as, our past. Everybody and their brother is posting their reflections and their resolutions, so I figured why shouldn’t I. At the very least, this post will give my friends a heads up about the resolutions I’ll be breaking come January 3rd or 4th.

Obviously, if you’ve read this blog in the past year, you’ll notice that the past 365 days haven’t been a cakewalk for me. While my life has been incredibly blessed, I’ve had a really difficult time recognizing my blessings and reveling in them. My goals for this year in no particular order were:

  1. Eat paleo.
  2. Watch less TV.
  3. Exercise in a variety of ways (including swimming) while running (barefoot) a race a month.
  4. Meditate.
  5. Read more, including the Bible and Common Prayer.
  6. Play and find my inner hippie again.
  7. In short, do things which bring me joy. Relax.

Listing my goals out like that reminds me of Benjamin Franklin and his list of 13 Virtues or John and Charles Wesley’s tabulations of their moral behaviors. I suppose if I am going to list my resolutions or goals, I should keep track of how well I am doing with them in some manner. I don’t. I ate mostly paleo and lost about 50 pounds (I did gain some of that back this holiday season!). I can’t say I’ve watched less television; in fact, I may have watched more (Oh, Mariska, how you tempt me!). I did exercise a lot, but not as much as I would have liked. I finished my first triathlon, so that’s pretty decent. I totally left out meditation and prayer for a good portion of the year. I felt so disconnected, and I am not sure whether my lack of meditation caused the disconnection, or if I didn’t meditate because I felt disconnected. Either way, I didn’t spend enough time alone with my thoughts and God. I read a lot more, but not the specific texts I mentioned I would focus on. I played more, and playing was lovely. I did things which should have brought me joy, but they didn’t always. Instead I feel as if I just focused on the negative, even when I swore I would focus on the positives. I’m a realist; it’s difficult for me to be to be positive. I am going (to try to) to fix that this year. #PollyAnna2012 will become #joyful or #merrymaking or #radicaljoy for this year.

In short, I want this year to bring less of this:

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And much, much more of this:

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Speaking of this year, here are my goals in order of their current importance to me and my mental and physical well being:

  1. CULTIVATE JOY: Do things which me bring me joy. Embrace the random. Enjoy the mediocre. Don’t stress over things I can’t control. Live in the moment and revel in those I spend my time with. Put down my phone or my other distractions and really love and live the moment.
  2. CONSUME CLEANLY: Eat better food. Drink less cider and more water. Put into my belly those foods which will best fuel my body for physical activities and mental joy. I’m going to attempt to jumpstart this with a new Whole 30, beginning on January 7. I want a clean slate and a clean body for the new year.
  3. EXERCISE: Exercise in a variety of ways (including swimming) while running at least a mile a day. Finish a Half Ironman triathlon before my 39th birthday. Carpool or walk or ride my bike to work every day. Use the body and the buses for transportation as frequently as possible.
  4. BE INTENTIONAL: Watch no TV, except an occasional movie. Use social media for no more than half an hour each day. Replace the time spent on nothingness and meaningless conversation with strangers with pursuits of intellect and kinship. Meditate, pray, read, and contemplate theological and academic things. Practice silence. I also would love to finish this dissertation.
  5. PLAY: Play and find my inner hippie again. In the spring, I’ll start a disc golf club at school.
  6. STAND UP: Begin standing up against injustice in a real and tangible way. Use grace and love to resist those things which are unethical or immoral. Help the Burris GSA, Prism, to be more active and visual by bringing meaningful activities into my students’ lives.

These are my hopes, dreams, goals, resolutions for 2013. I hope to use Sunday mornings to write in this space about these goals and about current events. I will begin tomorrow morning, though it isn’t Sunday, by writing in depth about that first goal of practicing joy. Practicing joy will no doubt be my most difficult goal, but for me it is by far the most important. I can’t have another year like this year. Any suggestions you have about cultivating joy are welcome! How do you cultivate joy?

For some running inspiration, join us with this challenge:

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Christ Has Risen: Happy Easter

I don’t know about you, but for me Easter Sunday always brings with it a great and overwhelming sense of joy. Lent and the 40 days of wilderness and darkness are over. Jesus the Christ has conquered death and offered the promise of new and eternal life! Is there any better promise, anything more hopeful?

We attended two very different, but equally meaningful Easter services today.

This morning as we walked to the outdoor sunrise service given by Lutheran Church of the Cross, I thought about my colleagues who look down upon Christianity because it isn’t rational or based in science. Several times I have been made, by my academic peers, to feel as if my beliefs stem from some sort of ignorance or naïveté, or that my willingness to believe in the Christian miracles somehow negates any intelligence I might have, minimizing the worth of my intellectual pursuits, as if my religion or my spirituality disenables me to participate in rational, academic thought. But, I don’t want my faith to be anything but faith. I don’t want the mystery to be sucked out of the Easter miracles by rationality or intellectualism. I want my Jesus to stay firmly in the realm of things I can’t prove, but that I know to be true. I don’t think my willingness to believe in miracles negates my ability to think. Nor does my ability to think negate the childlike whimsy with which I place my faith in Jesus who died, who resurrected, and who will come again. I consciously choose to place my faith in something I cannot prove. I have not been brainwashed, led astray by a band of scallywags, nor forced into believing some mumbo jumbo against my will. My faith stands with the resurrected Christ, and I eagerly anticipate his return.

As we walked to the Nature Area at Minnetrista, I also thought about how beautiful this creation is and is becoming. I looked around at my surroundings and spent time thanking God for the grass, the trees, the birds, the flowers, the insects, and all of those things which were surrounding me. We were laughing, holding hands, and anticipating the service at which we’d celebrate Jesus, his body broken and repaired, when we realized that the gate between the field we were in and the Nature Area where we needed to be was closed. Could we walk around? Maybe. But there was enough space for us to go under the gate, so on our way to Easter sunrise service we rolled under the big, black iron (steel?) gate. We thought the sight must have been hilarious, and we sort of wished we could have filmed it. The experience definitely put us in the right, good, and joyful mood that Easter calls for.

What We Saw When We Sat Down:
Communion and Fire Pit

My own Easter blessing.
I love it when the sun rises while the moon is still up.

The Message

The message at the sunrise service focused on Mark 16 and the role of the women. Later I mentioned to Becky that the three times we’ve been to Easter services where women were officiants, they’ve preached from this passage. There is something so empowering about this bit of Mark’s gospel: the women were the first to know the good news. And there is something status quo about the same passage: they didn’t say anything because they were terrified. Whenever I have read or considered this section of scripture, I have always entertained all the possible reasons the women might be terrified. Were they worried that no one would believe them? Did they think people would think they had done something with the body? Were they afraid because the news they carried would turn an entire religious and cultural system on its head? Were they like so many other throughout history who have been afraid to speak? Were they afraid they’d be accused of blasphemy? Were they afraid at the greatness and glory of the news they’d just heard? Why were they so afraid they didn’t tell anyone? Of course, my really cynical side wonders if they did tell everyone, but then their story was stolen by men who wanted the glory of proclaiming the good news. I would suppose it’s a combination of all of these things, but it’s a beautiful thing that at least Mark’s gospel gives women the first knowledge of this new paradigm, even though they were too terrified to share it. This passage is one of several reasons that Mark and Luke are my favorite gospels, giving the role that women played in Jesus’ ministry fair exposure. I enjoyed being invited to think through these ideas again this morning.

Sculpture at Minnetrista On the Way Home From Sunrise

The Courtyard at Minnetrista on the Way Home From Sunrise

When the sunrise service was over, we went home and had a delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs with spinach and bleu cheese and bacon. At 10:30, we attended the church we’ve been attending for about a year and a half or so, Commonway Church. The service was in the usual style, but there were several baptisms and we had communion for the first time that I can think of since last Easter. Matt’s sermon focused on the history of resurrection theology as found in the Jewish scriptures, and he encouraged us to remember that we have a resurrection coming. He reminded us that Jesus shocked the disciples by proclaiming to be the embodiment of the resurrection, essentially the embodiment of their future. Jesus was saying, “Your hope of the coming age is in me,” reminding us that Jesus Kingdom is the already, but not yet Kingdom of God. As a bonus, we sang one of my favorite songs: “Lay ‘Em Down” by Need to Breathe.

It is won. It is done.

Our Easter Gift from Commonway's Band, A Lobby Concert

Each of these sermons spoke to me on a different level. Obviously, the first sermon spoke to me as a woman, reminding me of the critical role of women in the Kingdom of God. The second reminded me of the strong Jewish theology that Paul used to explain the work that Jesus was and is doing here on this earth.