I’ve been reflecting for the past several days about how two seemingly opposite experiences can coexist.
Easter Sunday was, as I had hoped and prayed, an experience of incredible joy. Walking the road with a congregation in need of renewal is a challenging experience––for me and for the congregation. It’s a journey which cries out for an Easter. And this year, having fasted through Lent from our Sunday morning worship service, we really needed Easter. When Easter morning arrived, it was amazing. Months of hard work and difficult conversations, of dreaming and imagining, of navigating sensitive spaces, of confusion, of frustration, of groping in the fog bore some significant fruit. It was a new dawn. A new day for a congregation in need of a new life.
I concluded my sermon by playing the Michael Bublé song Feeling Good. It had popped into my head on my way home from church late Saturday night, after having finished setting up our new worship space for the first time. It’s a tune that I listened to every Sunday morning on my way to church for months after being appointed to this congregation nearly 3 years ago. Hadn’t listened to it in years, but it started playing in my head as fellow Christians in our time zone were beginning Easter Vigils. I decided to play it at the end of my sermon as a mark of the beginning of a new era. It’s a great Easter song! Could easily be Jesus singing,
Birds flying high, you know how I feel; …blossom on the tree, you know how I feel; it’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me. And I’m feeling good! …This old world is a new world and a bold world for me.
There’s no doubt it was the voice of our congregation, too. What a joy!
I was full of joy to watch a vision realized. I felt joy at the actual experience validating all the theory that this crazy idea would work. I felt deep joy at doing what I am made to do––lead worship and spiritual life in community. I felt joy watching friends filled with joy. I felt joy when I experienced the embrace of God over and over through various worship elements: singing “Alleluia!”, watching my friend Sue lead and read scripture, preaching, leading the community to gather around those who lead the renovation effort & pray with gratitude for their commitment, launching the sharing of prayer joys and concerns and hearing people share their hearts with each other. It was a morning of overwhelming joy.
…And in the three days since, I’ve felt unexpected sadness. Sure, some of it is clearly the letdown on the other side of a finish line I’ve been anticipating for 6 months (and longer!). But my sadness didn’t wait to surface until we crossed the finish line; it bubbled up in the middle of worship. I was introducing the new-to-us prayer practice of sharing joys and concerns in the whole group as part of our communal prayer, and I wanted to demonstrate my request that we go beyond simply listing facts. I hadn’t thought this through carefully enough to have planned how I’d give instructions, so in the moment, the prayer request I could think of was my wife’s chronic health struggles. I had invited folks to share how they felt about what they were sharing, because when we do that, we create intimacy and compassion happens. So I said, “Instead of simply asking you to carry my wife and me in prayer as she deals with ongoing health concerns, I would say, ‘Today I’m sad because my wife couldn’t be with us to celebrate because of her health.'” I started to cry when I said, “I’m sad.” I was surprised by my own response. A parishioner wisely said to me later, “It was like when you hear your mom’s voice on the phone”––that moment when what’s inside rises to the surface and overflows.
I realized Sunday that I’m more sad than I had realized about my wife’s ongoing struggle with illness, and the challenges we both face in raising a toddler in the midst of it. But I think it’s more than that. I’ll keep listening deep inside for what’s coming up.
I share all that to reflect on the fact that joy and sadness can live together just like joy and fear, as I narrated in my last post. I’ve spent much of my life seeing happiness and sadness as mutually exclusive opposites. But, as I learn to be more and more aware and honest about what I feel, I’m learning that’s not true at all. In fact, I think the overlapping is a pretty normal reality.
When I allow the door to my soul to open, allowing real, honest emotions to rise to the surface, I don’t choose what they are. I just experience and accept what is. When the door is open, sadness sometimes comes through, but I can only experience real joy when that door is open, too. This feels like the most profound spiritual practice: choosing to be open to whatever is most real and true rising from deep within me, refusing to judge or try to filter it, deciding rather to trust that feeling it presents an opportunity to connect to the Divine. Whether joy or sadness––or both––it is when I am in touch with what is most real right now that I am most open to Divine embrace and communication.
Thank God for Easter joy! And for Easter sadness. And everything else that appears when I allow that door to my soul to crack open.