Looking for Joy

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I felt  washed out this week, even though the air has been prancing and snorting and throwing down rain, full of joy. The storm started with dense fog that softened the lines and colors of our brown and green December. Then it hurled down rain and wind that pushed through our kitchen window. I put a towel down to catch the moisture. Bruce had tried to caulk in on the outside the last time this happened. But it didn’t work. I suggested we caulk between the window and the wood on the inside. He thinks we’ll have to tear off siding. All I can say is that it’s creepy to hear rain dripping inside and we’re at a loss on how to fix it.

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The mares blinked their eyes when I switched on the lights, gave them their haybags, and refilled their waterbuckets. At least the barn was dry. Ratfink, our resident rat, scampered up the beams and into the loft. He was slow enough to catch but I didn’t reach out my hand. He is slick and beautiful. Bruce has talked about a for real break their neck rat trap but when I said he’s almost a pet, he relented and will set a live trap. Onyx gets over there and has brought us back a few mice and laid them on our doorstep.

When I walked the dogs for the last time, water was pooled in our front yard and near the top of our drainage ditch. I knew Orion was up there, behind the barn, behind the clouds, just as bright as he always was, but I tucked my head into my collar and walked them around the house. They came inside padding wet paw prints on the floor. Night jumped on the couch and I told him, “Off” again and again.

The sump pump ran continually. It does this because a French drain connects with a septic tank dug at the lowest point of all the fields, so when it rains the water rolls right into the house. When we renovated the place, the water sloshed up three inches along the floor. Our plumber came out and made the water drain into our sump pump.

I could feel Bruce’s tension from across the house. He woke up at 2 am worried about the water. But by this morning it had stopped running through the house. We plug the hole with dirt every time it opens up and can only hope that enough dirt will flow through the pipe to plug it. Or we may get a back hoe in and try to crush it.

When we first moved here the hole was as big as a pony and somewhat mysterious, until we found out that’s where earlier owners put the septic. A few years ago our neighbor came by with his end loader and plugged it with dirt. I forget why it was an emergency, whether a storm was coming or had just been through.

It’s Advent, a week before the shortest day of the year, with days short and nights long and overcast skies. I’ve been flipping through the minor prophets to see if I could get some insight into my instincts as I watch the madness in my nation. Also I don’t have to read as many pages, but it’s painful to see God driving his beloved people into exile because they worshiped pagan gods, sacrificed their children, worshiped the stars and constellations. It’s hard to reconcile this rage with the God who sent Jesus to die, who says “at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow”, who says he places “our sins as far as the east is from the west.”

The wickedness in Israel wore out the prophet Habakkuk so much so he wails:“How long, O Lord, must I call for help,

But you do not listen?

Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save?

Why do you make me look at injustice?

Why do you tolerate wrong?

Destruction and violence are before me;

There is strife and conflict

Abounds.

Therefore the law is paralyzed,

And justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,

So that justice is perverted.” (Hab. 1:2 – 4)

Slowly I’m beginning to I understand what justice is about as I watch the news and see young men being shot, high on drugs, maybe mouthing off, but a long ways from threatening the officer. And I read about a student at my university who was executed in Chicago, and the children who wrote stories of their best friends bleeding out in their arms. I listen to our president talk gun control and hear gun store owners say how there’s always an uptick in sales afterwards. I am insulted when a writer calls me stupid for seeing things differently than him. Students’ terrible debt funds six figure university administration and not education.

Corporations like Apple or Caterpiller make deals with foreign countries so they don’t have to pay US taxes even though the US has made them rich. A school arrests a boy who makes a clock that looks like a bomb, and they are sued. Babies are killed in utero legally. Young people can be labeled sexual predators  if they have sex with a classmate, even though popular culture calls them weird if they abstain. Friends with benefits. People resent the money it takes to help the poor, while corporate welfare goes unchecked. A farmer burns a few acres of federal land, by mistake and jailed as a terrorist. He is released and jailed again. Forests are left untended, so when the pine beetle turns living trees into kindling, and sterilizing infernos if fire touches them, the species this policy were supposed to protect killed, and even more carbon dioxide released.

I could be like the prophet asking when God will move but instead I pray for mercy. I think of the old prayer, “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us…Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.”

But Habakkuk gets his answer, when God says he will raise up the Babylonians,

“that ruthless and impetuous

people,

who sweep across the whole earth

to seize dwelling places that are not their

own.

They are a feared and dreaded

people;

They are a law to themselves

And promote their own honor.” (Hab. 1: 5 – 7)

And I think of ISIS, who practices what Rabbi Jonathan Sacks calls “altruistic evil”—killing, raping, torturing, bombing—in the name of their God. And I pray for God to break through to them, teaching mercy. I pray he breaks through to all of us. I pray for the God who was tortured and naked to draw near to the suffering, to hold us all.

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Our pastor said said it’s the Joy Sunday in Advent and read passages that said, “Rejoice in the Lord always” and “Shout for joy, oh daughter of Zion.” I’m having a hard time finding joy, or even waiting for Jesus to bring light in the darkness. I’d forgotten that Habakkuk offers a most courageous view of joy I’ve read. It’s been a prayer of mine, to find that joy even though I am more than acquainted with grief.

“Though the fig tree does not bud

and there are no grapes on the

vines,

though the olive crop fails

and the fields produce no

food,

though there are no sheep in the pen

and no cattle in the stalls,

yet I will rejoice in the LORD,

I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign Lord is my

Strength;

He makes my feet like the feet of

A deer,

He enables me to go on the heights.

For the director of music. On my

Stringed instruments.” (Hab. 3:17 – 19)

This is the kind of joy that Jack Gilbert talks about and Elizabeth Gilbert quotes in Big Magic, “We must risk delight…We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of the world” (6).

I walk back from the barn and see a squirrel in the black walnut growing beside our drive. I look at him and he looks at me. Even he knows about gladness as he runs the branches in even the tallest trees.

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