I recently spent a week at a monastic Abbey nestled in the rolling hills of Kentucky’s bourbon country. I hiked trails and chanted Psalms on the daily basis, hosted by humble and oh-so-hospitable men in dresses.
It was the most beautiful way to spend the first week of Advent. The reading throughout the day focused along the theme of hope. The hope that has come and that which we await still. I toted with me a suitcase of journals – my lifetime of written words. I was sorely mistaken that the musings of decades could be re-digested in a short week’s time. I arrived beaten down from a month of loss and disappointment that I had locked up to host a large family Thanksgiving.
The Thanksgiving was smaller than expected with 15 cancellations which had an unacknowledged layering of grief for me. I felt all of that when I closed the door to my private bedroom at the Abbey. My foreboding morning drive south erupted in anxious tears once inside my nest for the week. I slept and cried, napped, read, ate fresh homemade bread toasted with plenty of butter, and took long walks through the farmland and into forest. I can see now the November grief was a paralyzing kind. It slowed my movements, ceased my thoughts and fatigued my whole person – mental, emotional and physical.
In a too-short conversation with a friend, she had wished offered that all the momentary struggle and heavy laden grief could be the opportunity to learn joy along the journey. This moment is about dwelling in the joy despite the circumstances. Joy sounded good.
My husband took the kids for the week. I was afforded the time to dig out of my deficit, one I hadn’t realized was consuming me. I took a few turns too many in the forested trails and ended up hiking much longer than I planned.
On the way out of the hills and trees, I felt a pop, like when your elevation changes and your ears adjust. But the pop was in my spirit, not in my head. I took pause. It was the joy. I found it. My mourning had been traded in. In its place there was joy.
To all who mourn in Israel he will give: beauty for ashes; joy instead of mourning; praise instead of heaviness. For God has planted them like strong and graceful oaks for his own glory.Isaiah 61:3