From The Blog

Monthly Meditation – April 2011

“Joy, like thanksgiving, is at once a gift and a decision. They are nothing without both. God provides the occasion; we respond by entering. Turning away from the occasion, neither glorifying God nor thanking Him, blinds us to His presence and to the occasion He provides.”

From The Stepstool of Divine Ascent by Rev. Fr. John Konkle

How many occasions have each of us missed in our lives? Occasions for joy? Occasions for love? Occasions to serve? Occasions to practice any of the virtues? What great sadness there should be for these missed opportunities, and what great hope there is for us to turn again towards God, with purpose and intention, with eyes wide open and a will strong to serve.

Each of us when confessing our sins are essentially admitting to a lack of success when it comes to putting into action the things we say we believe. I recall a conversation regarding the subject of faith as theory and faith as action. Can we say that faith is only “theoretical” without action? Maybe that is too strong a conclusion but I believe one could accept the premise as a challenge. Certainly one cannot argue with St. James who said, “What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works… Faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (2:14ff).

The subject of the above quote is joy, a frequent confessional subject, or shall I say more specifically: the lack of joy. I admit that this subject is regular to my own Confessions as well. On a personal level I believe I was raised in a joyful home, and for the most part I believe I am a joyful person. I will admit, however, that there have been times in my life when this was not the case. To be too specific here would be a breech of dignity, suffice it to say that after my joyous childhood I had to learn how to be joyful, how to choose to be joyful. Along the way there have been some very difficult phases.

When I read this quote it resonated so deeply in me, that while joy certainly should be seen as a gift it also has to be a decision. I am reminded here of when Jesus essentially told his followers, “It’s easy to love those who love you” (Luke 6:27ff). We all know it’s easy to be joyful, to be happy, when things are going our way: good relations, good job, good health, good activity. But Jesus said specifically, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?” Here, then, we ask the question, “If we are joyful only when things are going our way, what credit is that to us?” And like when Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” so too we are given the command to be joyful (maybe especially) when things aren’t going our way.

How are we to navigate these difficult waters? Should we just wait for God to make things better for us, and complain while we wait? God forbid! While certainly we may not be able to force the very real interior feelings we may have at any given moment, how we present ourselves outwardly is certainly within our (self) control. Here we begin to see just how definite the instruction is to this process of decision. This is “synergia,” our cooperation with God in doing our part to follow His commandments. In the case of joyfulness God is not going to force any of us to be joyful, it is indeed a decision each of us must make as sons and daughters of God. I had to learn how to decide… and I am still learning! I believe this instruction can find application with all of the virtues; yes, ultimately all virtue is a gift from God, but I also have to decide to love, to be obedient, patient, humble, kind, generous, forgiving, chaste, moderate, hospitable – especially when things are not going my way or I just don’t feel like it!

We are now approaching the celebration of another Pascha and soon we will be singing and celebrating “Christ is risen!” More than anything, however, the conclusion of this annual season of discipline and preparation cannot be just about emotion and the refilling of our bellies emptied of meat. “Christ is risen!” is precisely the clarion call to action and work. All discipline and preparation make little sense or have little value if there is no associated expression of love, of true joy and of virtue. Our Faith recognizes the frailty and brokenness of this world – of our lives – and then, in the risen Christ, it sees that all is now restored in the revelation of the “universal kingdom.” Thereby, as partakers of God’s action we are lead to action – to see the occasion and to actively respond by making the decision to enter into “the joy of our Lord.”