Surprised by Joy

17 April 2020

By David Gunn-Johnson,

We have all been very careful to look for positives in this situation possibly as much to reassure ourselves as to encourage others but that is no bad thing. To hold up the light in the darkness; to sing the songs of home and hope in a changed landscape. It is possible, even necessary, to ‘Sing the Lord’s song in a strange land.’ It is not that we dismiss or underestimate the sorrow and pain, the grief, loss and fear that so many are carrying — far from it! It is rather that we refuse to allow that to be the only thing to touch our hearts, so that our hearts will still have something to offer those who do carry such burdens.

So here I share some of the things that have been for me a surprising joy:

When I left the house for my morning walk on Easter Day, I realised that the world has not smelled this way since I was a child. Hardly a vehicle has been in or out of our cul-de-sac for weeks. One or two on shopping trips, but very few. The heady mixture of the scent of blossoms and of grass and even the faint smoke from the allotments stopped me in my tracks. Sixty years just evaporated and I was once more an urchin playing in the fields around Elstow, where John Bunyan lived. It was not a totally authentic experience. In those days my world was full of cowpats, but it was enough.

Walking the riverside, I inevitably pass other walkers. For most of the route one can see several hundred yards ahead, and those coming towards me would often move to one side of the path as I moved to the other. There were moments of hilarity as we misunderstood each other’s intentions and engaged in a long distance waltz, moving from one side to the other until one of us made up our mind. As we passed, in the main, there were large smiles of mutual acknowledgement. It was as if we were saying, ‘You have considered me and I have considered you and I am grateful.’ Often that emerges as ‘Good morning’, sometimes as ‘Thank you.’ Of course there are those who obviously have no idea what two metres looks like. I would hate to have to watch them park a car. But in the main, each walk leaves me with a sense of the consideration of others. That is new. I am glad of it.

Finally there is a train of thought that has pervaded my own spiritual journey for some years now. It can be summed up as ‘The Sacrament of the Present Moment.’ We are, for the most part, a sacramental community. The Lord Jesus gave us two and the Holy Spirit gave the Church five more. However this idea takes the fabric of time itself and makes of it something sacramental. The teaching that lies behind this can be found in the work of Jean-Pierre de Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence. I shall not even attempt a synopsis here but simply offer a thought.

Time. Until now there has never been enough of it, and even now I can fill every ‘unforgiving minute’ if I try. ‘No time to see in broad daylight, streams full of stars like skies at night.’ There has always been something to take me out of the present moment — work, worry pleasure — and yet if I do not try fully to inhabit this present moment, to be present in the present, I miss a great treasure. De Caussade wrote, ‘There is not a moment when God does not present Himself under the cover of some pain to be endured, some consolation to be enjoyed, or of some duty to be performed.’  In other words, the very things I have always thought of as distractions are the very anchor points holding me to the divine presence in the eternal now.

‘God has given you this moment as an opportunity to become a saint. The opportunity is not in five minutes… The present moment is His gift to you. It is your opportunity…’

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