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Repinski: The joy that finds us

By Marvin Repinski

United Methodist Pastor (retired)

For some of us, there is nearly a leap of the heart seeing a well-passed football — a “bullet pass” enhances it. For some of us, a well-caught pass creates an almost aesthetic pause. Football. Some like it; some love it. Some dislike it or don’t care. Maybe that’s like the larger season of Christmas.

That reminds me of a conversation at a church supper. Rollie: “That roughing the passer was not necessary.” Agnes: “They roughed the pastor? Did you call the Bishop?” Bernie: “He said passer, not pastor.” Connie: “I know of one case of rough stuff in a church. They kicked out the pastor.” Billy: “This is football! It has nothing to do with church politics.” Agnes: “Remember, there are a lot of nice people in churches; not too many nutcakes!”

Singing some of the well-known hymns since the age of five for some of us, the melody and words stick with us forever. Example: “Joy to the world the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King. Let every heart prepare him room…” Words by Isaac Watts, 1719; music arranged from G. F. Handel, 1741. It brings together two of the masters! This uplifting hymn, sung by almost all Christian bodies, denominations, splinter groups, and what is often termed sects, invites us to forget all the labels that often divide seeking persons. We may use the word ecumenical. The use of the words in the hymn “Joy to the World” pushes us beyond self-imposed boundaries, tribalism, and the cursed lingo “my way or the highway.”

My thoughts now meander along some words that are related to joy. It is possibly as elusive as the term happy, but please join my thoughts. Under the words: Journey, Observation and Yearning, let us find some ways to spell out J-O-Y for an expanded Christmas.

Journey

I have walked, as a pastor, from jail cell to new opportunities for persons who have said, “I’ve had enough. I want to leave my old life behind. It’s goofy, crude, and it hurts others.” And later there was confession, new pleas for forgiveness, an opportunity for baptism, and I believe the new words stuck! “Water of life, cleanse and refresh us; raise us to life in Christ Jesus.”

In an essay entitled “First Daughters” by Lucinda Rosenfeld, a few lines jump out of a rich story. “Ainsley arrived … tilting her head in a manner that she hoped conveyed a winning combination of warmth, loyalty, and alacrity, mediated by the tiniest hint of regret for the obstacles that had been unwittingly placed in their mutual path.” This story from the Harper’s magazine of February 2019 moves toward some resolutions. An appraisal is offered about persons who seem “incapable of understanding what happens around them.” And the refrain “… the chance to observe or accept how the world works!”

In writing about joy and journey, I offer my opinion. We are all seeking to understand and apply to our lives “how the world works!”

What the Hebrew authors write of their journey with God, we apply to our lives. “He’s the Balm of Gilead and the Physician.” (Jeremiah 8:22). An odd statement, but maybe it works for us. Are we not all odd persons?

Observation

There is seeing and there is seeing! We look , we gaze, but do we see? A motto of sorts. There can be very little joy without many days of appreciation!

In this political season, as some call it, we wisely think of the foundations of our rare and beautiful country. (Today I’m very positive!) Please think about how rare, compared with the history of other nations, is our “Declaration of Independence.” A quote from the Seventh Day Adventist magazine (November/December, 2019) reads, “and it is known how, not with the noise of trumpets and a great demonstration, but as became it, like all great events which mark the epochs in the cause of truth and justice, and that bear in them the seeds that are to spring up in ever-increasing blessings to humanity as generations go by, it was quietly adopted on July 4, 1776, published on July 6, 1776, and read with simple ceremony in the State House yard on July 8, 1776.” It is said by one man at that time, “We must all hang together, or we shall all hang separately.” Right on.

The hymn writer wrote: “Joyful joyful we adore Thee.” That sentiment is repeated in many forms — even Unitarian and some not quite believers, united in common purpose.

In thinking of the need to see and experience, think of meditating on a kind of joy that is present in the novels of Charlotte Bronte. Note: This is reflecting on seeing. “We set out cold, we arrived at church colder; during the morning service we became almost paralyzed. At the close of the afternoon service, we returned by an exposed and hilly road, where the bitter winter wind, blowing over a range of snowy summit to the north, almost flayed the skin from our faces.” (From the 1847 novel Jane Eyre.)

Even with a red face, you may wish to sing some carols at an Austin area place of worship. I assume heat will be provided.

Yearning

Almost worldwide, there rages the pain, dislocation, frustration of families, and crippling addictions, and even death. This Christmas, may it be a time for a gentle yet firm awareness.

Most of us know persons who are being strangled by overdoses, alcoholism, drugs, and bleak futures. Many resources are available; even more are growing to soothe, comfort, talk straight, and be near those who yearn for relief. There is, out there, a deep desire to be normal — whatever that may be. We need more than “Away in a Manger,” but that’s a starting point. The book of Isaiah, Verse 32:2, grants a promise: “He’s a shelter from the wind and a refuge from the storm.” Of course, the “refuge” needs to materialize in all that a city, a county, a state, may create or make available. We do yearn, desire, wish, pray for that which brings a beautiful sunset.

An illustration of how a yearning was fulfilled is written in the book “Lit” by Mary Karr (2009). In a review by Erin Lee Carr, the honesty is heavenly. “I remember reading this profound memoir of alcoholism while I was struggling with substance abuse myself. Because I identified with a lot of Karr’s behaviors and thoughts, “Lit” gave me insight into what was going on inside my brain and body. I loved and hated and appreciated reading it.”

The obituary column of the Minneapolis “Star Tribune” on Sunday, Dec. 8, printed a brief resume of the life of Matthew Taylor Gall, M.D. What I circled is, “He dedicated his life to his patients, and treating their cancer. He felt honored to help those in need. He loved each and every one of his patients.” Matthew possessed a remarkable “joie de vivre”, the joy for life.” Now it may be our turn!