What is joy? I know I am carried by the stream of joy when my soul goes on automatic pilot and I surrender to that stream and let it carry me. The best word for me to describe this is “flow.” I just “let go and let flow.”
An example? I am a dancer. My body naturally attunes to rhythms and the feel of music. It seems I’ve always felt this. Whether I am lost in drumming or moving across a dance floor, the joy of flow often carries me body and soul.
One special evening (years ago) comes to mind. I was at a church general assembly and I met up with a woman friend from California for an evening dance event. The music being played by the disc jockey was swing dance music: the big band era (a favorite genre of mine). Barbara and I had never danced together. But we let the music move us and we improvised as the rhythms gathered us in a long, free-style dance improvisation.
There were lots of people on the floor, but the room was so big we could move freely. The music came to life in our bodies, we “got our groove,” and let dancing just happen.
Quickly, we realized we were confident in entering the rhythms, both as a couple and independently. We let our hands release and we drifted apart dancing with abandon: each drifting across the floor alone and then returning to join hands and swing joyfully as a couple. We drifted away and then joined several times with that lively swing jazz music.
That evening of dancing stands out as a memorable time, moving with full abandon, being carried body and soul by the joy of dance.
Joy might well be described as an “eros for life.” Moments of joy awaken our bodies and souls with the spirit of life and love flowing through us, lifting us, and carrying us forward, ebullient and free.
Please do not imagine that I romanticize the feeling of joy. We can feel joy even in the midst of anxiety, pain and suffering. These emotions can—they often do—dwell together within us, alongside joy. Even now, during these troubling times when all people the world over are wrestling with the deadly Covid-19 Virus. We can pause and experience moments of joy. The poet and novelist, Barbara Kingsolver, offers this:
“In my own worst seasons I've come back from the colorless world of despair by forcing myself to look hard, for a long time, at a single glorious thing: a flame of red geranium outside my bedroom window. And then another: my daughter in a yellow dress. And another: the perfect outline of a full, dark sphere behind the crescent moon. Until I learned to be in love with my life again. Like a stroke victim retraining new parts of the brain to grasp lost skills, I have taught myself joy, over and over again" (from “High Tide in Tucson”).
Joy need not be denial. It does not oppose tragedy. There are tragedies and there is joy. They co-exist in your heart. Joy can become a healing feeling, an awareness our souls offer to us, if we pause and notice its presence. Joy is here within you, nudging, prodding, tugging to get your attention and carry you with its eros for life. Joy pulls from our hearts through the deep loves that grace and feed our lives… if we pause to notice and feel its presence.
When have you sensed moments of being fully lifted by the feel of flow? Recall them as times of inner nourishment. Hold them in your heart. Love yourself into the reverie of joy. And feel your soul drifting into the grace of flow.
Roy Reynolds is a retired Unitarian Universalist minister living with his wife and life partner in the Kentucky hills. Roy’s retirement ministries are devoted to developing personal and small group practices for centering into and living from Wisdom’s Sacred Presence. Roy is Tonya Reynolds Ricks’ father.
I often feel like the juggler in the 3-ring circus of life...Chris follower, wife, sister, daughter, mother of five, CEO, friend volunteer...and the list goes on an on. It is easy to get overwhelmed by daily tasks, media and self-expectations. so how does one maintain balance?
I have found "balance" rest in the following 3 disciplines:
1. Morning Habits.
I begin each day with a time of meditation, mindfulness, prayer and Bible study. By dedicating the first half hour to God, I find myself centered on who He has created me to be. It also allows me to connect with my leadership team to dedicate our day to fulfilling our individual potential and collective organizational goals. I then focus on one task that I least want to do. I spend one hour getting the most important but least desirable task off my to-do list.
2. Expectations & Priorities. First, I am my own worst critic so establishing a more graceful approach with myself is often necessary. Learning to say “no” to good things, but not the things God has called only me to do is key to prioritize my daily tasks. Next, I create a block calendar each week to ensure to spend time not only on the urgent tasks, but also the most important tasks. I only allow myself to check email and social media at prescribed times (one in the AM, one at noon, one in the PM) in order to minimize distractions. I build in time to think strategically weekly and also retreat for one day each quarter to get a thirty-thousand foot view. I also preserve one day each week for complete rest and worship---no work allowed! Additionally, annually I commit to at least a three-day retreat with my husband and a weekend retreat with my BOD/work family to conduct strategic planning. Finally, I take two weeks in July and two weeks in December to recharge and reflect/plan.
3. Self-care & Staying Present. Fifteen years ago, I was diagnosed with cancer. I was 32 years old with four children under five years old who worked full-time and volunteered on weekends. It took the “gift” of cancer to help me realize how desperately I needed to slow down and take care of myself. Since that point, I am better at maintaining at least seven hours of sleep each night. The areas where I continue to struggle is eating healthy and daily exercise. I am intentional in my efforts to always be present—regardless if I am at home, at work, at church or elsewhere. I no longer worry about what I cannot control and I fully recognize God is God and I am not. I am responsible for my efforts each day but He is responsible for the outcome or results. This removes much of the pressure and helps me maintain proper perspective.
Maintaining balance at all times is impossible because we are imperfect humans. As the Holy Spirit continues to mold me and make me in His image, however, I find I am able to maintain a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions--true balance!
Tonya Winders is the President and CEO of Allergy & Asthma Network the nation's leading patient education and advocacy organization. She has five young adult children who are the inspiration for her tireless efforts to fight for patients first and foremost each day.
Our lives have changed. Changed by pandemic, changed by death, changed by necessity. As a part of the human condition we are naturally resistant and reluctant to change. In this matter, however, we’ve been given no choice. No one asked our advice or opinions before the world drastically shifted from what we’ve known it to be. How do we maintain morale? Where do we find the courage for resilience?
Amidst sheltering in place and social distancing we find hope for survival by intentionally looking for means in which we can live in unity.
Tate: Our children will never know the world we grew up in prior to September 11th, 2001. How does our current situation relate? Can you imagine things returning to some sense of normal on the other side of this?
Tiffany: We will not be the same after the COVID-19 pandemic. We simply cannot be. We will have lived through a global trauma and we will have done it communally. We will have stretched ourselves beyond our routines, our training, and our degrees. We will have reinvented ways of living, worshipping, leading, teaching, parenting, and shopping. We will innovate and create. We will engineer and pioneer. We will develop solutions and ideate new possibilities. We will push through to a new frontier.
Tate: I’m beginning to recognize how much we’ve taken for granted without realizing it. If I’d only known there would be this long hiatus before we could see portions of our families again, our friends and members of our church. And yet, I’ve also found that we’re calling to check on each other more often, putting cards and letters in the mail, and using social media to post messages of hope and encouragement.
Tiffany: We are in a shared time of transformation. This is a time that will reformat the way that we think and work, care for each other and behave. We have the opportunity to rise above and beyond what has separated and divided us, to stand in solidarity with the very fiber that connects us, our humanity. This period of pandemic has given to us a rebirth of the human enterprise known as community. We have once again been reminded of our need for the other. Our survival depends on more than our own ability, but on the collaborative efforts of humanity as a whole. This pandemic, this disease, does not discriminate as humans do. This is a battle we share, and we must overcome together. Survival depends on it.
Tate: One of the things that moved me greatly was the support that has been given to medical professionals and first responders. We sat in a packed hospital parking lot with much of our community, flashers on and prayers lifted. Seeing hospital employees standing in the windows and outside the doors while we expressed our appreciation filled me with hope and faith.
Tiffany: Workers who have gone unnoticed and under-appreciated for decades, are finally being seen as the heroes they are. We are not questioning the worthiness of those on the frontlines before we ravage our craft closets and fabric collections to sew medical masks to save their lives. Doctors and medical teams are not asking about the sins of those on respirators while carrying out debates over who deserves to live and who does not, rather we are all seeking to ensure that as many individuals live through this pandemic as possible. We are standing together to fight against what threatens to take our lives. Standing in solidarity is about recognizing what connects us and giving it a greater weight than what separates us. Solidarity isn’t about uniformity, but rather unity of spirit. We have always been called to unite with the neighbor and the stranger. We have always been called to put down our swords. We have always been called to seek the greater good of the other, to lay down our lives for our friends, to serve others more than we serve ourselves.
Tate: In the beginning it may have been easy for people to dismiss the severity of this virus and not take seriously the advice given on limiting unessential activities and interactions. Now, there are days when I even have to turn off the news and social media because it has been a challenge to watch the rising number of deaths it has caused.
Tiffany: In the critically acclaimed and award-winning novel Tuesdays with Morrie, author Mitch Albom presents the notion like this: “Amazing, I thought. I worked in the news business. I covered stories where people died. I interviewed grieving family members. I even attended the funerals. I never cried. Morrie, for the suffering of people half a world away, was weeping. Is this what comes at the end, I wondered? Maybe death is the great equalizer, the one big thing that can finally make strangers shed a tear for one another.” Could it be that this very moment in time, as tragic and terrifying as it can be in its most raw form, be a wakeup call for our generations to recognize its very nature cannot be separated from the other? Could it be, that to really live, we must understand that we are truly equal in design and must then therefore take our feet off the necks of those we have oppressed? Albom later tells the reader, “the truth is, once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.”
Tate: There can be a sense of entitlement or even apathy that causes people to think, “These instructions don’t apply to me,” but it only takes a few who aren’t willing to cooperate to endanger everyone around them, no matter how many systems are put into place. In essential errands, such as a trip to the grocery store, I’ve had a chance to see how important it is to have unity in thought and in effort when it comes to the precautions we must take in order to not only protect our own health but also those who are most vulnerable.
Tiffany: Unity amongst humanity means a compassion that extends beyond earthly barriers, economics, and possessions. Unity among humanity means putting down our signs, our politics, our hatred, our verbal and physical violence. It means stepping aside for the other. It means standing in the gap, in front of the train of injustice. It means never valuing our life, our opinions, our traditions, our comforts, over the life of our neighbor. Whether we stand united with medical professionals, lab technicians, scientists, community and religious leaders, or we stand in solidarity with the very people we are commonly found to quarrel with, we have picked up the mantel of life when we have chosen to stand for one another. We choose the “vulnerability that loving entails,” as Albom writes it, when we choose the intentional act of unity with others, for the sake of others.
Tate: There is a lot of educated guessing going on. With so much information coming in each day it seems the only thing we know for sure is that we’re not sure. At this point there are many more questions than answers. It makes it difficult to know what to do and how long we must do it. Where can we find any sense of peace in the not knowing?
Tiffany: There are no manuals or guidebooks to tell any of us how to handle the global pandemic we are facing. We will turn to history, to science, to ancient religious texts, and to the words of our ancestors. We will turn to prayer, to service, to hope. We are not the experts here. We are, in unity with those around the world, the vulnerable human race that stands to lose it all if we do not stand with all. Morrie, a sociology professor, gave us these words to savor then and now. “Be compassionate,” he said. “And take responsibility for each other. If we only learned those lessons, this world would be so much better a place.” Albom noted that Morrie took a breath and then added his mantra: “Love each other or die.” The same God that created you, created me. The same God that put air into Eve’s lungs, breathed into us. The same God that walks with the “thems” of this world, walks with the “us’s.” The same God that knows the sting of death, steals the sting of death. To love now is to practice unity. To live now is to live unified with those like us, and those unlike us. From the beginning, we were all created from the same beautiful dirt. In the end, we are all God’s children.
Rev. Dr. Tiffany A. Nagel Monroe is the Senior Pastor at Shawnee St. Paul’s Methodist Church
Tate Monroe serves as the Director of Discipleship and Development at Shawnee St. Paul’s Methodist Church
Devotion. When I hear the word I imagine the love of a mother, or the commitment of a husband caring for a sick wife, perhaps a businesswoman working tirelessly for a company she believes in, or a minister or teacher serving selflessly. Devoted is a good word we use to describe good people. But devotion has to be more than simply the destination for our committed affections. Shouldn’t whatever or whoever our devotion is connected to be a worthy cause? Many people have done horrible things with radical devotion.
Recently I was reading through the Beatitudes of Jesus recorded in Matthew 5. One of them calls out the pure in heart. As I was learning about this description of these who can see God, I learned that when Jesus used the phrase pure in heart, he was describing more than just one’s emotions. He was defining more than the feeling of devotion. He was describing a different understanding of what devotion should be. Heart in the first century would’ve included “thoughts, reasonings, understanding, will, judgment, designs, affections, love, hatred, fear, joy, sorrow, and anger.”* In other words, everything you really are. In our contemporary way of thinking we tend to separate emotions and thought. And often that is a good thing! But oh, how this little reminder helped me to understand the most important things in life a little better. Devotion is more about who I am than who or what I love. To be a woman of devotion I need to be aware of the many things that pull me in different directions so I can become more single-minded in my commitments. My days on this earth are limited and I don’t want them to be wasted, I want them to be devoted to what matters most!
*Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study New Testament.
Jamy Fisher is a wife and mom of three who has served alongside her pastor husband, Todd Fisher, for 26 years. They currently serve at Immanuel Baptist Church in Shawnee where she teaches a weekly Bible Study and is active in Women’s Ministry.
How do you have so much self discipline? I've been asked that question a time or two. As a personal trainer, I was just beginning to think some were born with the "self discipline" gene and some were not. This theory stirred something deep in my soul. Only when I turned to my bible, did I finally get the answers that had kept me up at night.
It's not whether one has self-discipline or not, but rather, understanding that we each possess it and that it is God given. The bible promises us, "pronounce something to be" (Job 22:28) that which you chose to do you must "decide and decree" and when you declare a thing "it will be established for you." (Job 22:28)
You are as unique and one-of-a-kind as a snowflake or fingerprint. Desires and goals have been seeded deep into your heart. You have the power to bring these talents, gifts and desires to fruition. "You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you." (Phil 4:13). When there is something that has spoken to your heart that requires self-discipline, it is important to remember that things are the way they are, because you are the way you are. Change one thing and everything changes.
Make a plan and use it every day to implement it. When your thoughts do not align with your vision quickly replace them with what you want, who you desire to be and what you want to accomplish. Closely monitor your thoughts, emotions and actions until thinking, speaking and acting in a way that aligns with your goals becomes a lifestyle.
Rid yourself of all time wasters, energy depletors, unhealthy thoughts and self doubt and start taking control of what flows through you. Positive thoughts, words and actions will get you exactly where God want you to be. Stay forward focused and don't sabotage yourself by falling into old habits or thought patterns. When you have a day that your don't feel like staying the course, (and we all do) lean into him. Ask him for strength and guidance. As your heavenly father he wants to see you succeed and he wants you to call on him and he wants you to give him the glory. Every day is a new opportunity to converse with God and map out your plans together. If you ask and if you listen, he will give you the playbook to make your goal reaching EPIC!
To be disciplined is to put into practice the only kind of control God ever puts into your hands: self control. It's important to remember, "We don't have to do all of it alone. We were never meant to." ~ Brene Brown.
Paula Lyon is a personal trainer and nourishment coach. She loves running, being outdoors and spending time with her husband of 30 years and her three kids and four grandchildren.