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The Bullfrog’s Song

by Mary Domb Mikkelson, Senior Editor, Connecting Voices

“I’m not through with today yet!”

     Thus spake Zarathustra.  Oops, sorry, make that Dolly of Family Circus cartoon fame, protesting her bedtime.

     What a wonderful day that little girl must have had, full of fun, play, friends, discovery, excitement and, especially, joy – a joy in living she didn’t want to end.

     I’ve thought a lot about joy of late, ever since Ecclesiastes 3:1-14 was discussed at Tuesday Night Bible Study.  This scripture was also emphasized, as an invitation and guide to joy, in our recent “May the Circle be Unbroken” worship service.  But what of the less than jubilant times mentioned in that passage – times to die, weep, break down, mourn, hate and, perhaps the biggest challenge to joy, a time to refrain from embracing?  If seen as a simple recognition that life, whatever it brings, is ours to affirm and celebrate, to make the most of, to find joy in, the words free us to delight in the wonders of God’s creation.  They also challenge us to help others know that same wonder, to join with us – and Jeremiah (the bullfrog, that is, not the prophet) – in singing “joy to the world, all the boys and girls; Joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea; joy to you and me.” 

     We left Bible study that night, commissioned to think about – and list – the things which bring us joy.  Among mine, for starters, are a couple of fond memories, ones involving youthful joy:

My phone rang early one winter morning – very early as four-year-old granddaughter Katherine was blissfully unaware of time zones.  A California child, she had moved to New Jersey, where astonishing new discoveries awaited around every corner.  She had awakened only moments before to the best one yet.  “Grandma,” she said, “It’s SNOWING!”  I could hear the light in her eyes, the wonder in her soul – and was glad she knew how to punch “02” to call me and share her amazement and joy.

As special moments will, this one brought another to mind – Glinda the Good Witch of the North (played by Billie Burke) arriving via a huge bubble in the movie version of The Wizard of Oz.  Floating down from the sky to emerge in a glittery gown, Titian hair aflame in a halo of light, she was absolutely the most amazing sight I had ever seen.  I was, I believe, seven at the time and believed, fervently, in OZ – Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, Cowardly Lion, flying monkeys and all!  Especially Glinda.  And there she was, coming to the aid of Dorothy – what joy!

     Melba Colgrove defined joy as “the feeling of grinning inside, a description which brought Charlie Pace to mind.  He grinned a lot but seldom from inner joy.

     Charlie Pace?  Remember the TV series LOST and its massive cast of complex, conflicted, irritating, too-often violent and occasionally endearing plane wreck survivors on an uncharted island?  One of the castaways was Charlie, an angst-ridden rock bassist and heroin addict who found himself in his love for Claire Littleton, another survivor, and her newborn son, Aaron.  When Charlie sacrificed himself in an attempt to help the others escape, he had but one legacy to leave Claire – a block-printed list of “the best moments in my pathetic life” – moments when he had known joy.  It was, sadly, a short list:  the first time he heard his music on the radio, learning to swim, the gift of a family heirloom, being called a hero (for saving a woman from attack) and “the night I met you.”

     In contrast, the Bible proffers a far longer list by employing 15 different Hebrew words and 8 Greek words to portray joy.  Among many others, Old Testament usage employs words related to leaping, dancing, exultation, religious ecstasy and battle-cries; the New Testament, to good cheer, glorying, thriving, greeting and being useful.  Makes one want to dance through the church, hands clapping, bodies swaying, singing “I want to be ready to walk in Jerusalem just like John!”  Even as we did during final worship at the SCNC Annual Gathering in June.  Now that’s a thought…anyone have the music to it?  We could set the rafters ringing!  What a joy that could be!  (I promise to join the parade.)  And, after all, 1 Thessalonians 5:16 charges us to “be joyful always!”  What better place than at worship.

     Back to that list, the one we were challenged to complete.  What brings me joy?

     Family and friends.  Beauty, especially in unexpected places.  The written word.  Garden Fresh’s baba ganoush and Trattoria Tiramisu’s saltimbocca.  Gentleness and kindness.  Learning and growing.  Challenge and change.  Stepping outside my comfort zone – and embracing the experience.  Moments of quiet peace.  Busy moments.  Being helped; being of help.  Memories of Ron.  A baby’s chubby feet.  The aroma of baking bread.  Children barreling down the stairs to see what Santa brought.  Australian shiraz. New places, things and people.  Relinquishing anger.  Building a snowwoman in Antarctica.  Walking the English countryside.  A stuffed dog named Poochie.  Glacier Bay when Marjorie calves.  Those who have walked with me, guided me, comforted me, loved me.  Following my dreams.  Fulfilling my potential.  Learning to live and share my faith.  And…and…and…and…

     It humbles (and pleases) me that my list is long.  I am blessed.

     Later in Ecclesiastes (8:15) we read, “So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun.” (NIV).  And, yes, I know the language is non-inclusive.  So be it.  I read twenty or more translations before settling on this one.  All but three (even The Message, disappointingly) rendered the 2nd sentence as, basically, eating, drinking and making merry being the only thing that will get us through the toil and despair God has sentenced us to in the short life given us.  I believe the NIV has it right, that joy will accompany us (men and women) all the days of the rich life God has opened before us and is to be shared to enrich the lives of others.  Galatians 5:22 tells us, “The fruit of the spirit is love, joy and peace,” May it be so as we work for peace, justice – and joy!

     P.S.  The bullfrog had it right!

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