One of my favorite presents to give at Christmas is a book. I miss the now closed Cokesbury bookstore in Des Moines where one afternoon in December, I would take a basket and, armed with the list of Diocesan staff, I would say a quick prayer for the Spirit’s guidance and let myself be taken around the store matching books with persons. Maybe the Holy Spirit also misses Christmas shopping with me, and I am sure finds many other opportunities to find instruments of joy, curiosity, and enrichment as we are matched with the Spirit’s gifts. I always would buy an extra one of the books chosen for myself as a Christmas present. One such book gift is the Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu. For some of you that is probably last year’s news, but good books and ideas stand even the test of our fast-moving times. It is my reading and spiritual practice for the opening of 2018.
It is no surprise that the first few chapters rattle off aspects of human living that are as far away from joy as you could imagine as they deal with fear, stress, anxiety, frustration, anger, sadness, grief, despair, loneliness, envy, suffering, adversity, illness and the fear of death. Clearly these are the obstacles to joy. Joy however is declared as a by-product not an end achieved in or for itself. It is the by-product of eight pillars of human practice: perspective, humility, humor, acceptance, forgiveness, gratitude, compassion and generosity.
Jesus ties joy to prayer, when He invites His disciples in these words, “Very truly I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, He will give it to you. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete” (John 16: 23b-24). So, what if in this New Year which we have just entered, we make the eight pillars of joy our prayer requests, and not just for ourselves but for every human being, and do so in the very midst and in spite of the twelve elements of joy’s obstruction? This is Epiphany light shining in the darkness. Or it is a reminder as Archbishop Tutu beams forth that “you are made for perfection, but are not yet perfect. You are a masterpiece in the making.” This is God’s blessing for a New Year.
In the peace and love of Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Alan Scarfe
Bishop of Iowa