Monday, October 24, 2011

A day of tears, a day of happiness...

I awoke weeping.  I spent the day weeping.  I am weeping now.  Too many things. Too many big things.  Things I have not known.  Things I have known, but have kept hidden.  Things.

But I thought I would try to write about something that has been on my mind.  Only, I have not yet written because it is another topic I think I will not truly be able to find the words that I want.  The words that will say what is on my mind.

A while ago, someone posted a link to this blog entry. Is is about non-schooling, but it is also about happiness. At the risk of seeming to skew the writer's words, I am quoting here just a portion of it:

People are clearly confused about happiness. That’s why professors at Harvard are always writing new books about it, and those books are always becoming bestsellers. That’s why the New York Times has so many articles about it. That’s why we all talk about it. We’re trying to figure it out. What the hell is it? Is it the same for everyone? Is it totally different? Do we have to work for it? How hard? What does that work look like? Do we even recognize it when we have it? Is it completely obvious? Does it involve delicious food? Or should we diet?

We all want to get to happiness, but we don’t seem to know how.

But nonschooling is about reminding ourselves of the things that matter. Reminding ourselves that no one is really sure how to get to future happiness, and no one is certain how much certain kinds of success contribute to it, but I think things might be better for everyone if we just spent more time being happy now.

As an ex-educator, ex-literacy professor, I have very decided opinions on unschooling and non-schooling.  As someone who writes, I find it strange that the writer makes a point about no one knowing what happiness is and then concludes that we are to spend more time being happy.  The very, very, very honest part of me believes that this is a good example of a piece that sounds good but does not really say anything.  Of course, maybe you would say the same about all of my writing.  I would not blame you.

So, why did I quote that?

Well, ever since I read this...after I got over my thoughts about nonschooling...I have been thinking about happiness.  And absolutes.

I have written before that I believe the bible is full of black and white.  For years, I heard a lot about grey areas.  Our world has definitely embraced grey areas.  Everything is relative.  Even truth, honesty, and morality.  The ends justifies the means is probably the core belief of  more people than we would care to admit.  But I believe in black and white.  

In reading the New Testament, I found a hard, narrow way.  Very narrow.  Not so much in church or in Sunday School or on retreats.  But in the Bible.  Granted, most of what I read was skewed by works righteousness, but I did believe in things having one meaning.  Not what it means to me as opposed to what it means to you.  Not a whole mess of for yous, but one for you that covers all.  That is why, essentially, when I began reading the Book of Concord, I felt I had come home, even if I really do not understand what home is.

[Two double entendres in a single paragraph.  A first for me. A prize for you if you can tell me both words.]

The Book of Concord is documentation, really, of Christians who profess that there is that single for you, that there is but one meaning to the Living Word, not the meaning we might like to make of it, meanings that would fit the way we think life should be or the way we would like life to be. It is strange, if you think about it, what freedom there is in a doctrine that teaches one way, one meaning, one opposed to ways and meanings and truths that fit the idiosyncrasies of the existence that is the human race.

The writer of the blog, in my opinion, states that we cannot know what happiness is, how to find it, how to achieve it.  I believe she is wrong.

[Okay...get all your great big guffaws out and all those snide remarks about irony of someone who spent the day weeping claiming such.  Are you done?  Wait a minute...I'm not...okay, now I am.]

The thought that keeps chasing around in my head is that the Bible teaches and our Confessions proclaim that happiness lies in Christ crucified, in life by and with and through the cross.  Understanding this--in part since for now we see but dimly--is the beginning. Also important is understanding Hebrews 12, understanding what is means that "for the joy set before Him" Christ despised the shame and endured the cross.  

I wrote about this in a project I am working on with my new writing partner.  More and more I am convinced that to teach that Hebrews 12 and James 1 as meaning we are to be joyful about suffering is skewing what the Living Word is speaking to us.  Christ is fully man, even as He is fully God.  That means, as a man, he would NOT be jumping with joy at the thought of being beaten, spat upon, stripped naked, taunted, humiliated, and tortured to death.  NONE of that is a joyful thing, NONE are joyful experiences.  However, what comes after those things, after the shame and after the torture, is what fills Christ to the brimming with joy:  new life for all His sheep.  Or, as many a Lutheran pastor has written when mentioning funeral sermons, getting to kick satan in the teeth!  Surely freedom from the wrath of sin for His beloved sheep is a joy beyond all joys. defines "happiness" as the quality or state of being happy, "happy" as characterized by or indicative of pleasure, contentment, or joy, which is why I began with joy. Only joy is not the end of my thought. The end of my thought, really, is the first article of the Creed that is, in my mind, inextricably linked to the fourth petition of the Lord's Prayer.

I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth. | Give us this day our daily bread.

I have a few verses in the bible that really irritate me.  I admit that.  One I have wrestled with for decades is Paul telling me that he is content in all circumstances in Philippians 4:11-13.  Only, because of that blog, with which I disagree on so very many levels, I believe I finally found peace with this passage.  [And, yes, I do mean a cessation of hostilities, not some mushy, gushy, soothing feeling.]  

I am no pastor. I am not properly trained.  AND I very deliberately did not go look up that passage in the Lutheran Study bible.  However, I believe that all those years I was taught this wrong, too.  Paul is not telling me to be content with suffering.  I believe that Paul is speaking of joy here, beneath His words.  I believe Paul is speaking of the peace of Christ.  I believe Paul is speaking of being washed clean and forgiven, daily and richly and for all time.  Knowing those things, having that state of being, makes for contentment even as you are also raging against suffering, pain, sorrow, loss, grief, anger, jealously, loss, death, illness, confusion, etc.  The list is as endless as the sins of this world.  Knowing who you are in Christ, knowing what you are given through the Holy Spirit, knowing that the Creator of the universe also is the one who creates and maintains your faith...that is joy, peace, and contentment.

So, then, how do I bring this back around?  Why are the Creed and the Lord's Prayer the key to happiness that is real, can be achieved, by everyone?  

But what is the force of this, what do you mean by these words, "I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth?"  Answer, I mean that He has given and constantly preserves for me my body, soul, and life, my members great and small, all my senses, reason, and understanding, and so on.  He gives me food and drink, clothing and support, wife and children, domestic servants, house and home, and more.  Besides, He causes all created things to serve for the uses and necessities of life. These include the sun, moon, and stars in the heavens, day and night, air, fire, water, earth, and whatever it bears and produces.  They include birds and fish, beasts, grain, and all kinds of produce.  They also include whatever else there is for bodily and temporal goods, like good government, peace and security." [BOC, LC, II, 13-16]

Give us this day, our daily bread.

Here, now, we consider the poor breadbasket, the necessities of our body and the temporal life. It is a brief and simple word, but it has a very wide scope.  For when you mention and pray for daily bread, you pray for everything that is necessary in order to have and enjoy daily bread.  On the other hand, you also pray against everything that interferes with it.  Therefore, you must open wide and extend your thoughts not only to the oven or the flour bin, but also to the distant field and the entire land, which bears and brings to us daily bread and every sort of nourishment, for if God did not cause food to grow and He did not bless and preserve it in the field, we could never take bread from the oven or have any to set upon the table.

To sum things up, this petition includes everything that belongs to our entire life in the world, for we need daily bread because of life alone.  It is not only necessary for our life that our body have food and clothes and other necessaries.  It is also necessary that we spend our days in peace and quiet among the people with whom we live and have dealings in daily business and conversation and all sorts of doing.  In short, this petition applies both to the household and also to the neighborly or civil relationship and government.

Let this be a very brief explanation and sketch, showing how far this petition extends through all conditions on earth.  On this topic anyone might indeed make a long prayer. With so many words one could list all the things that are included, like when we ask God to give us food and drink, clothing, house and home, and health of body.  Or when we ask that He cause the grain and fruit of the field to grow and mature well.  Furthermore, we ask that He help us at home with good housekeeping and that He give and preserve for us a godly wife, children, and servants.  We ask that He give wisdom, strength, and success to emperors, kings, and all estates, and especially to the rulers of our country and to all counselors, magistrates, and officers.  Then they may govern well and vanquish the Turks and all enemies.  We ask that He give to subjects and the common people obedience, peace, and harmony in their life with one another.  On the other hand, we ask that He would preserve us from all sorts of disaster to body and livelihood, like lightning, hail, fire, flood, poison, plague, cattle disease, war and bloodshed, famine, destructive beasts, wicked men, and so forth. [BOC, LC, III, 71-73, 76-79] 

From the Small Catechism, two other things we ask for that stand out to me are: discipline and honor.

The Creed has come down to us as what we believe, teach, and confess.  The Lord's Prayer are the very words Christ taught us to pray.  The latter is not because He needs us to say them, to worship Him, but because He longs for us to have that which we need, a reminder of sorts of all the things we need, all the things our Creator gives to us by His Son, through the Holy Spirit and those sheep He needs to grow, harvest, manufacture, deliver, and sell us the bread.

The photo of the fire is a favorite of mind from those I have taken.  That photo, to me, represents happiness, represents happiness that I can have because the fire and all things in my life are gifts from the Creator of the entire universe for me, for Myrtle.  Knowing this. Feeling it.  Clinging to it.  In all circumstances.

Yes, I have spent the day weeping.  I have spent the day struggling with something so shameful I cannot even speak it to myself.  I have spent the day juggling so very many other things. Awash in shame and sorrow.  Yet I have also spent the day in happiness.  I have spent the day in happiness because here and there, between the tears, I have had the good gifts of God: in my ears (the Living Word and encouragement and prayers from friends), before my eyes (Words with Friends with Bettina, Star Trek Voyager, a photo of a locker decorated for me) on my tongue (white cheddar cheese, strawberry chocolate, Dr Pepper, and baby asparagus), between my fingers (soil, sand, grass, gardening tools), resting on my chest (Amos), bathing my skin (sunshine, gentle breezes, hot water).

In short, to me, happiness lies in knowing who I am and in choosing to see all the good gifts God showers upon me...even as He is capturing my tears in a bottle, forgiving me my sin, not holding my shame and doubt and despair against me, and sustaining me throughout that shame and doubt and despair.  In my weakness, knowing.  In my brokenness, knowing.

Or, to put it another way:  The whole world with all diligence has struggled to figure out what God is, and what He has in mind and does. Yet the world has never been able to grasp the knowledge and understanding of any of these things. But here we have everything in richest measure. For in all three articles God has revealed Himself and open ...the deepest abyss of His fatherly heart and His pure, inexpressible love. [BOC, LC, II, 63]

The world cannot know God.  [Maybe that is the reason for all those books on happiness the blogger mentioned.] The world cannot know God, but we can.  And in knowing God, we can know who we are and what He gives us for Christ's sake because of who we are.  I know that they are different words and words matter.  But, to me, the real meaning of love, joy, peace, happiness, and contentment are all a single word: knowing.  Not mere knowledge, but knowing.  We can know God in plenty and in want.  We can know who we are in sickness and in health.  We can know what He gives us in joy and in sorrow.  We know and, therefore, happiness is ours to have.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!


ftwayne96 said...

Wonderful, simply wonderful. . . Thank you. This one was superb.

Becky said...

Well, that was well written. Do you feel like you said it the way you wanted?

Myrtle said...

I am not sure, Becky. Parts I think were close, but I am not sure. I suppose I think it is because this is so very big in my mind and in my heart. By that I mean that it means so very much to me to not trivialize it or turn this into some simple formula. Only, really, the Truth is as simple as it is complex. Sometimes, I wonder just how much that complexity spills out of the mess of this world, though. It is just that the woman's blog entry, lauded by people whom I respect struck a chord deep within me. There are absolutes. There is truth. And even I have happiness because I know, albeit somewhat shakily at times, who I am in Christ and that all these good things in my life, in this life, are because my Creator desires me to have them, to pour them over me as a never ending fountain...even...even...the joy of the cross...the joy that is *after*.