Allan Reeve always gets me thinking.
My favourite memory of Allan is of him standing at the front of Danforth Baptist Church, ripping up a $20 bill as he urged us to “spit in the eye of the Tin God” and break the power money has over us. Allan is also the man who inspired me to give up a real vice for Lent – like fear, or despair or lethargy — rather than waste the occasion with a mere chocolate abstention. (If you’ve never tried it, I can attest to the transformative power of such a Lenten fast.)
Many years ago Allan and his family moved to Fenelon Falls, where Allan serves as a United Church minister. Now it’s his weekly blog that keeps me on my toes.
Two weeks ago, Allan’s posting “Comfort or Joy” had me heading for my Bible. In this blog, Allan contends that “If it’s comfort we seek – then it’s joy we trade in exchange.” He observed that Jesus had to push past the comforts of home, security, even an established moral code, to achieve – not happiness – but joy, and we needed to do the same.
A different sort of comfort
Allan’s thinking made sense to me. But I wondered, then, how the idea of “comfort and joy” became so firmly rooted in Christian thought. The first mention of the phrase “comfort and joy” I discovered was in Jeremiah 31, when God promises to re-unite a scattered, oppressed and impoverished people, and redeem them from “the hand of those stronger than they.” And on that day, He says, “maidens will dance and be glad, young men and old as well. I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.”
All through the Bible, God promises his people comfort. But it is not the comfort of cozy evenings or money in the bank. It is urgent help to those who toil working cursed ground; to those alone in alien lands; to the afflicted, the lonely, the inconsolable; to those who are surrounded by enemies; to those whose homes are in ruins and whose land has been laid waste; to those who grieve the death of their parents or their children; to those who walk in the Valley of the Shadow of Death.
The comfort that can co-exist with joy.
It’s impossible to read these promises and not think of Haiti. I confess that, at this moment, I find the possibility for any sort of real comfort for the people of Haiti unimaginable. The pinpoints of hope I spot in the news photos – a woman setting up her food stall, a nun surrounding by singing women – seem so small amidst the enormity of the sorrows.
But I have also observed that imagined sorrows are not the same as real sorrows. I think of our friend Queenie, preparing to celebrate her 93rd birthday after overcoming many life-threatening illnesses, starting as a young woman. And I remember her answering my question, “Can there really be joy in suffering?” by saying, “Joy in suffering? Absolutely. AB-SO-LUTE-LY.
I find this a great mystery. I would love to hear of your own observations about “comfort and joy” amidst suffering, although I know these stories may be too tender to tell on-line. But if we see each other, let’s talk about this. And if you read something helpful elsewhere, add the link in the comments section.