10 Nov All at First and Last is Grace
I started reading a new book this week—not a newly released book but a newly-introduced-to-me book. Published six years ago, The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and His Holiness the Dalai Lama spent time atop the NY Times bestseller list, and it is no wonder: it is a gem. In just a few pages, it has already infused me with renewed hope, wonder, gratitude, and of course, joy.
Perhaps the book resonates with me so strongly because I’ve been reflecting on joy and contentment for several weeks, pondering the Spirit’s invitation to me to accept “what is” with grace and serenity; to embrace uncertainty with less angst; to choose to be present right now to whatever person, emotion, or situation is in front of me, without judgment or worrying about “what’s next.” As the wise ones of every tradition have told us repeatedly through the centuries, this is the pathway to peace, contentment, and joy. I can’t honestly say that any of this comes easily or quickly, but I can report that as I put the ancient wisdom into practice, there is greater freedom which in turns leads to greater peace and joy.
All of which likely accounts for the fact that as I drove to work this morning, my heart was bursting with gratitude. I am grateful for the stunning autumn to which Mother Nature has treated us. I’m grateful for Calvary and for the legacy of faith we have inherited. I am grateful for Reformation Sunday and All-Saints and Stewardship and Advent—the rhythm of worship that helps us mark God’s faithfulness to us in time and space. I am grateful for the literally thousands of small acts of love and kindness that support our life together as a spiritual community—the phone calls and notes of encouragement that get sent without fanfare; the meals that are shared; the generosity of time and heart that is given without expectation of return; the prayerful ungirding of each other; the warm welcome extended to strangers and friends alike. Wow—we are blessed. We are so rich in all the ways that count—in love and friendship, in belonging and support, in spiritual nurture and opportunities to serve, in the grace and mercy of God that enfolds us at every turn.
The Rev. Dr. Theodore Loder captures it well in his prayer, Waken in Me a Sense of Joy:
O extravagant God, in this ripening, red-tinged autumn,
waken in me a sense of joy in just being alive,
joy for nothing in general except everything in particular;
joy in sun and rain mating with earth to birth a harvest;
joy in soft light through shyly disrobing trees;
joy in the acolyte moon setting halos around processing clouds;
joy in the beating of a thousand wings mysteriously knowing which way is warm;
joy in wagging tails and kids’ smiles and in this spunky old city;
joy in the taste of bread and wine, the smell of dawn, a touch, a song, a presence;
joy in having what I cannot live without—other people to hold and cry and laugh with;
joy in love, in you;
and that all at first and last is grace.
That all at first and last is grace. Friends, if you really, really “get” that, then joy is the only imaginable response.
I look forward to sharing Stewardship Sunday with you—and don’t forget to wear your dancing shoes!
Yours for the Kingdom,