A couple of weeks ago a parishioner of mine asked me what had changed. “Changed?” I asked. “Yes,” he said. “You seem full of joy lately. You are almost glowing at the altar.” I have been thinking about his observation and wondering what the cause could be – what might be the reason my countenance has changed. And then I realized what it must be. I am happy. I am full of joy and that joy is evident.
As a pastor, and someone who sees the worst of the worst at times, I am very cautious about claiming joy or happiness. I think there is something deep in the recesses of my subconscious that is afraid to claim joy or happiness because I am afraid to jinx it. If I simply say aloud, “I’m happy,” surely some tragedy will come along and steal my joy. I also think the power of evil slips in at times and tries to convince me that joy or happiness is equal to perfection; if life is not perfect, it cannot be happy or joyous either. On one level, my hesitancy around claiming joy is silly and superstitious. But on another level, I have begun to wonder if it is selfish. By not claiming my joy, claiming my happiness, I do not allow those around me to know how happy they make me. But, equally important, by not claiming my joy, I do not allow God’s joy to spread.
In The Book of Common Prayer, one of my favorite prayers comes from Compline. It reads, “Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.” (BCP, 134) I have always loved the petition “shield the joyous,” because we ask God to protect not just those who are suffering, but also those who are experiencing joy. Maybe we ask that because joy can be fleeting. But maybe we ask that because we know the sinfulness of the world would rather squash joy than have it thrive, grow, and spread.
Knowing full well I could jinx things, I ask your prayers that God might shield my joy: that God might help me to celebrate the myriad ways I love my church and the joy my parishioners give me every day; that God might help me honor my daughters and husband by telling them how much joy they give me, even in the tiny things; that God might help me to shout on the mountaintop how much we love being a part of Williamsburg, the friends we are making, the connections we are establishing, and the service in which we are engaging. And then, I ask your prayers that I might take that protection of my joy and share it with others – so that we might be a people of joy, sharing joy, spreading joy. If you need a little joy, or you want to pile on some joy, let me know. I am happy to share and receive. And when my well of joy runs low, I will look for your joy to bring me back up. Together we will keep praying for God to shield the joyous, for all of our sakes!