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At first sight, joy seems to be connected with being different. When you receive a compliment or win an award, you experience the joy of not being the same as others. You are faster, smarter, more beautiful, and it is that difference that brings you joy. But such joy is very temporary. True joy is hidden where we are the same as other people: fragile and mortal. It is the joy of belonging to the human race. It is the joy of being with others as a friend, a companion, a fellow traveler.
This is the joy of Jesus, who is Emmanuel: God-with-us.
In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.
Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.
Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.
Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.
What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.
’Tis winter now; the fallen snow
Has left the heav’ns all coldly clear;
Through leafless boughs the sharp winds blow,
And all the earth lies dead and drear.
And yet God’s love is not withdrawn;
His life within the keen air breathes;
His beauty paints the crimson dawn,
And clothes the boughs with glittering wreaths.
And though abroad the sharp winds blow,
And skies are chill, and frosts are keen,
Home closer draws her circle now,
And warmer glows her light within.
O God! Who giv’st the winter’s cold
As well as summer’s joyous rays,
Us warmly in Thy love enfold,
And keep us through life’s wintry days.
Frances W. Wile
All beautiful the march of days, as seasons come and go;
The Hand that shaped the rose hath wrought the crystal of the snow;
Hath sent the hoary frost of Heav’n, the flowing waters sealed,
And laid a silent loveliness on hill and wood and field.
O’er white expanses sparkling pure the radiant morns unfold;
The solemn splendors of the night burn brighter than the cold;
Life mounts in every throbbing vein, love deepens round the hearth,
And clearer sounds the angel hymn, “Good will to men on earth.”
O Thou from Whose unfathomed law the year in beauty flows,
Thyself the vision passing by in crystal and in rose,
Day unto day doth utter speech, and night to night proclaim,
In ever changing words of light, the wonder of Thy Name.
He’ll Wash You Whiter Than Snow – sung by 14 year old Aretha Franklin
Joy is what makes life worth living, but for many joy seems hard to find. They complain that their lives are sorrowful and depressing. What then brings the joy we so much desire? Are some people just lucky, while others have run out of luck? Strange as it may sound, we can choose joy. Two people can be part of the same event, but one may choose to live it quite differently than the other. One may choose to trust that what happened, painful as it may be, holds a promise. The other may choose despair and be destroyed by it.
What makes us human is precisely this freedom of choice.
Forgiving does not mean forgetting. When we forgive a person, the memory of the wound might stay with us for a long time, even throughout our lives. Sometimes we carry the memory in our bodies as a visible sign. But forgiveness changes the way we remember. It converts the curse into a blessing. When we forgive our parents for their divorce, our children for their lack of attention, our friends for their unfaithfulness in crisis, our doctors for their ill advice, we no longer have to experience ourselves as the victims of events we had no control over.
Forgiveness allows us to claim our own power and not let these events destroy us; it enables them to become events that deepen the wisdom of our hearts. Forgiveness indeed heals memories.
We are all wounded people. Who wounds us? Often those whom we love and those who love us. When we feel rejected, abandoned, abused, manipulated, or violated, it is mostly by people very close to us: our parents, our friends, our spouses, our lovers, our children, our neighbors, our teachers, our pastors. Those who love us wound us too. That’s the tragedy of our lives. This is what makes forgiveness from the heart so difficult. It is precisely our hearts that are wounded. We cry out, “You, who I expected to be there for me, you have abandoned me. How can I ever forgive you for that?”
Forgiveness often seems impossible, but nothing is impossible for God. The God who lives within us will give us the grace to go beyond our wounded selves and say, “In the Name of God you are forgiven.” Let’s pray for that grace.
“How can we forgive those who do not want to be forgiven? Our deepest desire is that the forgiveness we offer will be received. This mutuality between giving and receiving is what creates peace and harmony. But if our condition for giving forgiveness is that it will be received, we seldom will forgive! Forgiving the other is first and foremost an inner movement. It is an act that removes anger, bitterness, and the desire for revenge from our hearts and helps us to reclaim our human dignity. We cannot force those we want to forgive into accepting our forgiveness. They might not be able or willing do so. They may not even know or feel that they have wounded us.
The only people we can really change are ourselves. Forgiving others is first and foremost healing our own hearts.”
Many thanks to Robert Brewer for interviewing me on Poetic Asides. The manuscript that was called Seriously Dangerous in the interview is now Violets On the Wind.
To forgive another person from the heart is an act of liberation. We set that person free from the negative bonds that exist between us. We say, “I no longer hold your offense against you” But there is more. We also free ourselves from the burden of being the “offended one.” As long as we do not forgive those who have wounded us, we carry them with us or, worse, pull them as a heavy load. The great temptation is to cling in anger to our enemies and then define ourselves as being offended and wounded by them. Forgiveness, therefore, liberates not only the other but also ourselves. It is the way to the freedom of the children of God.
“Grace, which is charity, contains in itself all virtues in a hidden and potential manner, like the leaves and the branches of the oak hidden in the meat of an acorn. To be an acorn is to have a taste for being an oak tree. Habitual grace brings with it all the Christian virtues in their seed.
Actual graces move us to actualize these hidden powers and to realize what they mean: Christ acting in us.”
Thomas Merton. Thoughts in Solitude. (New York: Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 1999). P 20
There are two sides to forgiveness: giving and receiving. Although at first sight giving seems to be harder, it often appears that we are not able to offer forgiveness to others because we have not been able fully to receive it. Only as people who have accepted forgiveness can we find the inner freedom to give it. Why is receiving forgiveness so difficult? It is very hard to say, “Without your forgiveness I am still bound to what happened between us. Only you can set me free.” That requires not only a confession that we have hurt somebody but also the humility to acknowledge our dependency on others. Only when we can receive forgiveness can we give it.