Long before Pixar or Dreamworks or Lucasfilms, Walt Disney was the movie-maker of choice for children. “Perry the Squirrel,” I think, was the first movie I ever saw in a theater, but then there were the animated films like Peter Pan, Snow White, Bambi, Cinderella, 101 Dalmatians, and Sleeping Beauty, so many others that made up the fantasy world of my young life and dreams.
“Pollyanna,” starring Hayley Mills, was another memorable movie for me and was, perhaps, my earliest introduction to Positive Psychology. Now, I know that “Pollyanna” has become a term of derision for someone who is hopelessly optimistic and naive, but actually as I read over some of the dialogue from the book by Eleanor H. Porter–thank you, Google–there is some pretty solid wisdom there–
“What men and women need is encouragement. Their natural resisting powers should be strengthened, not weakened…. Instead of always harping on a man’s faults, tell him of his virtues. Try to pull him out of his rut of bad habits. Hold up to him his better self, his REAL self that can dare and do and win out! … The influence of a beautiful, helpful, hopeful character is contagious, and may revolutionize a whole town…. People radiate what is in their minds and in their hearts. If a man feels kindly and obliging, his neighbors will feel that way, too, before long. But if he scolds and scowls and criticizes—his neighbors will return scowl for scowl, and add interest! … When you look for the bad, expecting it, you will get it. When you know you will find the good—you will get that…” – Eleanor H. Porter, “Pollyanna”/work/quotes/1099715
Or this bit of Biblical scholarship– “If God took the trouble to tell us 800 times [in the Scriptures] to be glad and rejoice, He must want us to do it–SOME.”
Psalm 100 is one of those places in the Bible that tell us to “rejoice and be glad.” “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Worship the Lord with gladness; come into God’s presence with singing.” Eugene Peterson puts it this way–”On your feet now–applaud God! Bring a gift of laughter, sing yourselves into God’s presence.” I love that–”Sing yourselves into God’s presence.” There is an African saying that says the Spirit doesn’t come down until the people start to sing.
“Make a joyful noise.” As Ryan Nesbit read for us last week, “The rivers shall clap their hands and the mountains sing for joy.” “How do they do that?!” Ryan so wisely challenged us. What a great question! All I can say is, apparently all of creation is created for joy and praise, and metaphors and myths are the only way to point to that truth, since no words or explanations can contain the truth.
“Make a joyful noise.” Now we know that life is not all joy and laughter and singing. A gunman mowing down lawmakers at baseball practice. Towering infernos in London. Great ships colliding in the dark, killing sailors. Car crashes taking young lives. Others attempting to take their own lives. Depression, addiction, wars and rumors of war. And that’s just this week.
“Make a joyful noise?” Of course not all music is joyful. The blues was born out of pain and sorrow. All kinds of laments and dirges, keening and cries have poured out human sorrow and loss and pain for as long as there have been human beings. The book of Psalms is Israel’s songbook of both joy and sorrow, of outrage and praise. “Come into God’s presence with singing. Sing yourselves in….”
It is that full-spectrum, full-body understanding that makes joy even remotely possible. “Know that the Lord is God.” Know – yes – in the Biblical sense– intimately, deeply, sensually. It is from this intimate relationship with the Divine that we can dare to be joyful. “He made us,” the psalmist says, “and not we ourselves.” Or “we didn’t make him.” “It is he who made us,” gave us life, which is how the ancients understood a father. They believed that it was the seed from the father, planted in the womb of the mother, who contributed nothing other than an incubator, that brought forth life. So, God is our father, they said – “It is he who made us.” We are the fruit of that seed. God is in our flesh and blood. “Know that the Lord is good.”
“We are God’s people, the sheep of God’s pasture.” Another reason for joy– The image of faithful shepherd was common in the ancient world for a monarch or leader, one who would watch over and care for the people. “God is my shepherd, I have everything I need.”
“Enter God’s gates with thanksgiving and into God’s courts with praise.” “Enter with the password, ‘Thank you.’ [Peterson says] Make yourselves at home, talking praise.’” Again, wisdom now confirmed in positive psychology–gratitude is essential for a sense of well-being. Even in our darkest hours, to find even one thing to be grateful for is to light a candle against the darkness.
Why should we make a joyful noise, even knowing all that we know? “For the Lord is good; God’s steadfast love endures forever, and God’s faithfulness to all generations.” “God is sheer beauty, all-generous love, loyal always and forever.” It is from that deep foundation, from a full-bodied, intimate knowledge and relationship with God, that we can make a joyful noise.
Is the world full of people behaving badly? You bet. Are our institutions dysfunctional and even destructive? A good case could be made for that. Has religion contributed to the violence and hatred in the world? Yup. But despite Bob Stannard’s blanket condemnation of Christians in yesterday’s Banner, there are people in the world giving their lives for others, standing up for justice, tending to the people nobody else wants to bother with, advocating for the earth and its creatures, there are people committed to healing the world precisely because of their faith and groundedness in the Love of God, some who are not ashamed to call themselves Christians.
Omid Sofi, a writer and contributor to the Public Radio show OnBeing, wrote in a blog post this week–
Yes, there are real jewels in each of our [religious] traditions. And they are all covered in filth and junk that is centuries old. In some ways, the jewels shine today as they have always shone. There is a light that’s too bright to be put out. At the very same time, the filth….of racism, tribalism nationalism colonialism, classism continues to cover the jewels. There’s a jewel inside our own hearts. That jewel, that inner divine knowledge, also shines so bright. It too has to be purified from the filth of egoism, sexism, and greed...Let us wash…and rinse…and polish these jewels. Our children will have to do the same with the filth that we can’t even see because we are so immersed in it. (OnBeing, 6/15/17)
“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Sing your way into God’s presence.” Today we celebrate and honor those who have helped us to enter into that presence with their music, their voices, their fingers and breath, their hands and strong arms. They have reminded us that we too are to raise our voices, our hands, our hearts, making a joyful noise with our lives to the One who gives us life, this day and always. The world needs to hear our song. May we join with the rivers and mountains and all creation in making a joyful noise to God.
Amen, and amen.
Rev. Mary H. Lee-Clark