The thirst to rejoice

Leaping for joy. Art-Hax/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

"... Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you."

—Philippians 4:8-9, NAB

I've been grouchy for a fair bit of 2019. Not deeply, not irrevocably, but more frequently than I have been in other years, almost certainly due to learning how to be a parent and enduring sleep deprivation and questioning my career path and inching toward my writing goals and feeling less than awesome in whatever I pursue and wondering if my hair is finally turning gray and did I mention sleep deprivation.

Oh, and the world continues to be on fire. That too.

So when I attended my church's annual Minkisi Ministry retreat earlier this month, I did not walk in immediately connected to its buoyant theme "In Total Praise." That is, until the gospel music began, and the congregation engaged in call and response, and I tuned into the fact that I haven't attended any retreat in god knows how long. And the combination of those things illuminated that the next eight hours were holding space for me to be with God, so I let my body release its omnipresent tension, loosening me enough to sing, to breathe, to weep.

Celebrant Fr. Robert Boxie said in his homily that day, "The sure sign that God is alive in you is joy." Until he said it aloud, I didn't realize how thirsty I was to rejoice. For all the emotions roiling through me in this past year of constant change, I have rarely wallowed in joy, even though -- or perhaps because -- it has often been the most intense experience.

But as Fr. Boxie went on to explain, joy is not "reasonable," nor does it mean "to cheer up or be positive." At many points this year, joy has felt akin to pain for me -- a bone-deep, heart-twisting, breath-stealing sensation, one I'm afraid to repeat for fear it will break me. So to hear that joy does not mean happy was to relieve myself of a limited human concept and embrace a mystical one -- the promise that we can access, in the words of Paul's letter to the Philippians (aka, "the letter of joy"), "the peace of God that surpasses all understanding."

The onslaught of joy left me wrung out by day's end, like I'd run a spiritual marathon without proper interval training. But I also experienced the physical peace that comes from honest exertion, which signals to me that the effort was well placed. As retreat leader Therese Wilson-Favors said, "Praise tunes us into God's sufficiency." In a year when I have often felt incapable or inadequate, how glorious to remember that I am enough. That God is enough. That our union is joy itself.

So with all this in mind, allow me to flip my usual script of gratitude during Thanksgiving season and emphasize joy instead -- the ultimate prayer of thanks.

Prayer #341: Exult

To exult once meant to spring or leap up, to leap for joy. Yet somewhere in English's shifting sands we lost this visceral meaning and now use the word to signify rejoicing, elation, triumph.

Powerful words to be sure, but part of me grieves the original definition. Its active focus would help me remember -- simply by speaking it -- that my very body is built for praise. I am meant to leave the ground, to suspend myself mid-air, to stretch toward the firmament, when I remember how I'm loved.

God who leaps and bounds toward me, put this word on my lips and its energy in my limbs. May I reach for You with my whole being. May I embody worship.