Comfort and Joy
Comfort and Joy: February 15, 2019
Today I complete my 50th trip around the sun!
50 seems liberating. I’m content, even happy, with who I am. I’m still very interested in maintaining and improving the health of my body, my mind, my soul. But I’m also happy with where I am and what I’ve accomplished so far.
I feel like I’m just getting started. But with the advantage of having tried and failed at a bunch of stuff already. I’ve mostly recovered from those failures. I’ve learned how to find comfort both in the midst of failure and in the throes of success.
We’re about eight weeks past Christmas—Jesus’s birthday. Remember? We sang, “Comfort, comfort ye my people, speak of peace, thus says our God…” And “Oh, tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy…”
This month I asked you subscribers: What brings us comfort? When are we a comfort to others? My favorite response was Leigh’s. Her beautiful answer is to use laughter—"it’s most helpful if the laughter is not bitter, and not aimed at a person but at a situation or idea.” Her other answer was sleep.
Now that would be comfort! I haven’t slept well in, oh, ten years. Since children became part of my daily life. I crave sleep. I lust for sleep. Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!—thus begins the Song of Solomon, but for me every love poem could be about sleep. Sleep, my elusive lover.
I fall into bed exhausted from the end of long days. I wake reluctant and grudging. If I must get up, then I want to start my day quietly, in the dark, with coffee and a candle. Ease out of the darkness into the morning’s responsibilities, challenges, opportunities. But what if sleep were the first third of the day?
My Faith Formation group is reading Soul Feast by Marjorie Thompson. My favorite part so far has been the chapter on Sabbath. I know about Sabbath as a weekly ritual of rest, but I’d never thought of daily Sabbath. She reminds me that in Jewish tradition, the day begins at sundown. “There was evening and there was morning, the first day…”
Sleep has never counted as day to me. In my practice, there was morning and evening—the first day. And then there was sleep, which was something else altogether. It wasn’t really connected to either side, which makes it easier to shortchange it.
What if I fell asleep knowing that God is calling me to begin with rest. That I’m being taken care of for six or eight hours so that I can wake refreshed and able to take care of others?
It is so comforting to think of sleep as the beginning of the day, to wake into God’s grace. Comfort and joy! To wake refreshed enough to be about God’s work in the world. Which, it seems, is rarely in the comfortable places.
Consider the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus is preaching and the crowd is pressing in to hear. He sees some fisherman mending their nets and asks one, Simon, to row him out a little ways—to make a floating pulpit. Simon, who presumably doesn’t know this man, but who hasn’t caught any fish all day, agrees. I imagine him thinking, “Why not? Maybe this preacher will give me something for my trouble.”
And maybe that’s just what Jesus does when, after he finished speaking, he tells Simon to row out deeper and try to catch some fish. Which was weird, because all the fishermen knew that you didn’t catch fish in the deep water. But again, why not? Fishing in the shallows had netted nothing. So Simon rows out, gets out his nets—I imagine him rolling his eyes as he casts—and his nets fill with so many fish that he calls his friends from the other boat to come help. Both boats almost sink. Simon is so overwhelmed with joy, so grateful for the miracle that he shouts aloud and pledges his undying allegiance!
Actually, no. Simon is so freaked out he falls on his knees and begs for mercy. “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
And Jesus says, “You’re right. You’re not worthy. Row me back.”
Again, no. Jesus says, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch people.” And here’s the really crazy part: Simon (and James and John) agree! They row back to shore, leave their boats and nets, their families and all those fish, and they follow Jesus. The first disciples.
They are way out of their comfort zone, and yet they follow. The comfort zone is in the shallows. The deep water, next to Jesus, is where the miracles happen.
Since the new year I’ve had a digital sticky note on my computer screen with these three questions Richard Rohr posed in early January:
What do you want to let go of in the coming year?
What do you want to give yourself to?
What is keeping you from giving yourself fully?
I say I want to give myself in discipleship, but I find I’m always dreaming too small. Trying to be too safe. Just recently I was meditating on the scripture in Mark where Jesus “entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him.”
Placing myself in the scene. I watched Jesus come in with his disciples, and saw the Pharisees lying in wait. I’m pretty good at reading a room, and I wanted to whisper to him, “Stop! Don’t fall into their trap. Don’t be rash—you can heal that withered hand outside, out of their sight. The man will still be healed.” Jesus smiled a sad little smile at me, then called the man forward and challenged the Pharisees, who left to plot his downfall.
I wanted the comfort of familiarity and rule following, of working within the system to right the system. But Jesus calls me out of my comfort zone—out of the shallow waters of rule following and gradualism and into the deep waters of trust where the miracles happen.
Challenge the system from the inside, but not with fear. Challenge with boldness, knowing that the tradition is not God. Tradition is a beautiful container to hold the mystery, never the full mystery itself. Witness to the mystery, not to the container, and when the container gets in the way, then sometimes you push over the tables in the temple. Sometimes you put your nets where the fish aren’t supposed to be. Sometimes you eat with the tax collectors and touch the lepers and honor the women.
In the coming year I want to find comfort in letting go of fear. To find joy in giving myself to trust.
I want the first third of the day to begin when my head touches the pillow, and to wake, called to participate in God’s creative action. Now that I’m 50, I want to learn this new, ancient, rhythm of grace.