The beloved carol begins on a D note and seven words later descends a full octave before the music begins to rise again. But what about those whose spirit will not, cannot rise with it?
I’m thinking about you now: the friend who is grieving the winking out of a loved one’s life or the loss of a longtime relationship this Christmas. The dear one who does for everyone else but seldom is done for. The women and men who smile and assure the rest of us that you’re fine, thanks for asking!, but the elusive emotion of joy seems so beyond reach you can’t imagine feeling it again any time soon.
Joy is a product of the Spirit, the apostle says. Sweet and succulent like fruit. You don’t need to be the daughter of a farmer to know joy doesn’t sprout from spent ground. Our Lord said it himself: apart from him, the Vine, there’s no produce. I get that and I know you do too.
Henri Nouwen once wrote that joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day. It comforts me that a deep thinker like him can put matters so easy for people like me wading in the shallows.
But still I doubt.
As I walk the slopes of Peace Ridge I talk to Him about you, I do. Some call it prayer, but I try to make it a conversation, see. And that’s a consternation because most times I talk too much and listen too little.
This December morning I stand outside on the porch, hugging myself to keep warm because I’ve got to wondering again how you, my friend, can find joy for your soul while the rest of us are bellowing it out to the world.
It’s pondering more than prayer accompanied by a Smokies soundtrack: the music of the stream rushing down the eastern slope of our land into the pond. Clear and swollen with mountain snow runoff, it tilts into our property from the neighbor’s pond above ours, fed by streams farther up Wolfpen Mountain. I wish I could climb high enough to locate the source.
And I got to thinking about what a book-friend said once. Amy Carmichael graduated to glory before I was born but left so much of herself behind. Words steeped in the Word. So I pay attention when Amy speaks because her life was hard, real hard, full of social ostracism and dying children and her own colleagues turning on her when the courts weren’t hauling her in for challenging the system.
But despite it all – or maybe because of it? – Amy once wrote something like this:
The joy of the Lord is an unquenchable thing. It does not depend upon circumstances, or upon place, or upon health, or upon our being able to do what we want to do. Joy is like our river here at Dohnavur. It has its source high up among the mountains, and the little happenings down in the riverbed below do not affect it.
Below is where we live, friends, you and me. The happenings don’t seem so little, though, do they. They tumble us over sharp edges and sharper words, grinding us like sea glass, rushing us over slippery situations until we don’t know whether we can keep our heads above water.
Fruit’s not grown on the mountaintops but in the valleys of our lives. The soil is the most fertile right alongside those streambeds, my farmer-daddy used to say. And that’s powerful, that truth.
I can’t see the origin of the stream that feeds our pond here at Peace Ridge. I expect I never will. We can buttress its banks, manage the flow, stave off erosion. But the source is high above us somewhere in these mountains in light inaccessible hid from our eyes.
And the promise I heard today in my convo out on the porch?
This is what I want you to do: Ask the Father for whatever is in keeping with the things I’ve revealed to you. Ask in my name, according to my will, and he’ll most certainly give it to you. Your joy will be a river overflowing its banks!
But the One whose birth we’re partying about next week said it true: Joy is on its way, and nothing can stop it.
He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.
Wonders of His love, and wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders of His love!