Friday, March 30, 2012


One of my favorite prayer cards says, "Joy is an infallible sign of the presence of God."

And yet it gets little attention.

St Margaret's Convent, Roxbury MA

I just read the most wonderful article about a Yale Divinity School professor, Mary Clark Moschella, who noticed that her students were just getting more and more depressed as she covered difficult situation after difficult situation in her pastoral care course.  "Isms" abound, of course, and must be faced; if we are to minister within reality, we can't avoid them, nor should we.  But this professor realized that joy is an integral part of pastoral ministry. If people focus only on the grim, on taking care of the griefs of their congregations, they will miss the moments of grace and joy in those lives, the ones that should be nurtured and celebrated. 

I daresay that is true for all of us, not just those in ministry: it's true as we walk alongside each other, and it's true in our own lives.  Joy and grace are things to which one must be attentive.  It's like a bird in a tree nearby - a flash of color, a song, a wing toward the sky - so easy to miss, and yet such a gift when we have the eyes to see.

It reminds me of an RS Thomas poem I love. 

The Bright Field

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

(Collected Poems, 1945–1990 (London: Dent, 1993), 302.

I wonder what joy lies right in front of me that I don't see because I am preoccupied with something else? 

Joy isn't happiness. It has nothing to do with life being easy.  It is not related to success or failure. God doesn't wait to show up until circumstances are good - or until we are good, for that matter. As this professor puts it, “God is revealed in joy and beauty and wonder that sometimes emerge right in the middle of suffering and struggle.”  That is grace.

Here is more from the article, including her definition of joy.

From the writings of theologian Jürgen Moltmann she concluded that laughter, joy and play should be regarded as key elements in human liberation, so that “we are opened to more creative and life-giving responses to the needs that call out to us.”

“Creating space for joy is not a secondary matter or a frill, but a central pastoral practice, right at the heart of faithful and committed ministries, and right at the tender heart of God,” she wrote in her Luce address on the subject.

“As I understand it, joy comes down to this: to being awake and deeply alive, aware of the love and grace of God, and of the gift of life, both in and around us. Joy in pastoral ministry is the same thing, but magnified by the blessing of a high and holy calling that challenges one to step outside of one’s self into relationships of care and communion. The themes and practices that I have found that characterize joy in the settings I have studied include presence, attentiveness, gratitude, release, hope, creativity, liberation, and love.”

Presence, attentiveness, gratitude, release, hope, creativity, liberation, and love.

Now there are some things to cultivate.  Perhaps we could make it an Eastertide practice to do so.

If you would like to read more, you may do so here:

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