Joy and Woe Are Woven Fine

I’ve said more times than I can remember that it’s been a year of trouble and turmoil. Maybe it has something to do with the way social media shapes our lives, the constant blare of the 24 hour news cycle, and the if-it-bleeds-it-leads nature of news reporting. This week or so has seemed especially filled with horrifying deaths, small and large, near and a world away.

And in our monthly theme we are called to reflect upon joy and what it means to be a people of joy, what it means to be a person of joy.

We all know that there are times that joy comes hard, and when it does, we need reminders of those small, quiet moments of joy that can lift us up if we pay attention. In these times, I find myself reaching for the words that remind me of what is small and precious and joyful even in the midst of trouble and loss.

A longtime favorite is from the play J.B. by Archibald MacLeish. The play is a retelling of the story of Job from the Hebrew Bible. On a dare God visits all manner of horrible torture on Job waiting for him to curse God which he never does. In the darkest of his times, the narrator of the play remarks:

I heard upon his dry dung heap
That man cry out who cannot sleep:
‘If God is God He is not good,
If God is good He is not God;
Take the even, take the odd,
I would not sleep here if I could
Except for the little green leaves in the wood
And the wind on the water.’

It’s not an everything-is-beautiful moment, but a recognition of what abides even in the midst of great tragedy. Watch, it seems to suggest, for those small moments. The little green leaves. The wind on the water.

Another source of hope and joy for me is a Kaddish written by colleague Mark Belletini. The Kaddish is a Jewish prayer that is said for the dead. It is meant to remind us in the face of death that life continues to have its goodness. Especially in light of the deaths of Ricky John Best, and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche in Portland last week, I offer these words of prayer to affirm the gift of life:

Before the wonder that all things are, I say aloud that life and death are the breathing of the universe, the drawing in of breath, the release of breath. I say aloud that human life is a gift, and that though the gift may be taken away, it may not, as the poet says, be ungiven.

Praise for Life. Praise for it though it is brief before the lives of stars and the lives of worlds, and the lives of even the trees that shade us.
Praise for life. Praise for the sacred power of remembrance.
Praise for the sacred power of forgiveness and letting go.
Praise for Life, the beginning, middle and end of this prayer.

The old hymn reminds us that joy and woe are woven fine. In days of worry and distress, may we always remember the joy: the small leaves, the sound of birdsong, the gift of life never ungiven. Let’s not look for the big, bold moments, but the little wonders that are with us always.