Saturday, fourth week of Lent
"Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning." - Psalm 30:5
"White Clematis", 1887, Claude Monet
It is inadequate, even misleading, to speak of 'experiencing joy', though it is impossible to find another phrase that can suggest what is meant. Joy is too great to be experienced. It is never our own, never within our power. It is rather that we are taken up into vastness, and that what we experience is not joy itself but its residue: our reactions, our emotions, after the vision has left us. Monet's White Clematis says something of this, if only in its impression of a vision too vast for his encompassing. The blazing whiteness, with the shimmer of purest lemon yellow at the heart, spills out and beyond the artist's canvas. We feel that no canvas. however large, can capture what is seen. In the most literal sense, this is a painting of a vision; we recognize it, not for what it is, but for what is makes us recall.
In 1997, James Taylor recorded a song called "Jump Up Behind me". In the polyphony of sound, you catch traces of drum, bass, guitar, a sound like some other-worldly Celtic instrument that's not quite wind or piano. They each have their own melody, weaving together a composition more vast than the sum of its parts. You're caught-up...toe-tapping...the air is perfumed with the fragrance of hope and festal joy.
In the banter that fills the space between songs of a live performance, James has commented to the gathered that "you might not think so at first, but this song is shaped by a troubled time in my life. I was living in New York City, my band had broken up about a month prior, and I was up to no good. I called my dad to say that I was in a bad situation...and he asked for my address. He said you stay there, don't go out, stay right there. He drove up from North Carolina and he brought me home. I'll never forget that time, or my Father."
The song lyrics don't narrate that story directly. Rather, the lyrics speak of true-love, and time of festival that "felt like Christmas morning". The structure of the chord progressions take you out on "life's journey" wide-eyed and wondering, turn to a brief minor key to intone some dark stir of clouds on the horizon, and then they return to a bright major key with an air of homecoming.
"Jump up behind me" is poetry for the delight and surprise of Joy he feels when recalling that season. His rescue and return were not his own doing. They were revelation. Alien, and yet they whisper something familiar. Regardless if he can "explain" it, he was caught-up in wonder and gratitude.
In the 15th chapter of Luke there are three vignettes of "lost & found": a lost sheep, a lost coin, and two lost sons. In the telling of each individual tale the thing that unites them, the common thread is this...God searches for what is lost "UNTIL HE FINDS IT" and then there is rejoicing, a party. I've always been struck by that turn of phrase "until he finds it". He doesn't say "if" or "maybe", the scriptures say "until". God is persistent and successful. Not only that, there is no talk of scolding or shaming in these parables...only the shock, that upon homecoming, it's party-time. Grab a drink, enjoy the music, the smell of grilled food in the air, friends you thought were lost, and friends you forgot were there. Jump up behind me.
“Never once in my life did I ask God for success or wisdom or power or fame. I asked for wonder, and he gave it to me.” ― Abraham Joshua Heschel
let me join the psalmist and say,
"The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders;
where morning dawns, where evening fades,
you call forth songs of joy." -Psalm 65:8