Psalm 137:1-6 – By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our lyres. For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How shall we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither! Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not prize Jerusalem above all my joys!”
Ephesians 5:1-2, 15-20– Watch what God does, and then you do it, like young ones who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn't love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.
Wake up from your sleep, climb out of your coffins; Christ will show you the light! Watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times! Don't live carelessly, unthinkingly. Make sure you understand what Christ wants. Don't drink too much wine. That cheapens your life. Drink the Spirit of God, huge draughts of him. Sing hymns instead of drinking songs! Sing songs from your heart to Christ. Sing praises over everything, any excuse for a song of gratitude to God the Abba of our leader, Jesus Christ.
In her Time of Discovery with the children on the first Sunday in Lent, Nicole passed out glittery little things and talked about how Lent is a time for quiet reflection in which we put away our hallelujah songs and shouts until Easter Sunday. The children placed their glittery hallelujahs in a large plastic Easter egg where they would stay until Easter Sunday.
In thinking about Nicole's teaching, I went from voluntarily giving up the hallelujahs for a season, to a generalized hallelujah deficiency, to how easily and often we fall victim to spiritual anemia. The Hallelujah Factor: it is the response of the heart and mind, body and soul to the wonder of living and being. Four things point to a healthy hallelujah quotient: when a person recognizes something that inspires awe and wonder; when gratitude begins to well up, when a deep sense of love pours in, and when blessings in thoughts, words, shouts, or songs of joy and thanksgiving herald an experience of God's goodness.
There are some symptoms of Hallelujah deficiency: a nagging sense of burden, a feeling of exhaustion at the core of our being; or we do our daily rounds but with an emptiness, a place of yearning for for rejuvenation. Or, we may carry some emotional sadness, an unresolved grief, or a struggle with physical pain.
C. S. Lewis identified three conditions of hallelujah deficiency. The first is a lack of attention. The demands of work, family, ride pools, chores, and routines, all necessary, keep us moving but the days pass in a blinding haze. A beautiful sunset behind Mt. Tam is missed, a kind word goes unheard, a caring gesture is taken for granted, or an expression of love is missed. The wistfulness and vulnerability we feel when we miss those moments is the soul's spiritual longing.
The second condition is misplaced mindfulness. Have you noticed how our minds are trained to quickly move to analysis rather than gratitude and praise? The majestic sunset becomes an occasion for thoughts about pollutants in the air. The kind word, caring gesture, or expression of love can become the occasion for suspicion – what was the motive behind that? Before going rational and linear, try practicing a pausing to create an intentional balance between analysis and hallelujah that allows you to see the holiness around you. When I see something inspirational I am constantly conditioning my first thought to be “Wow! That is beautiful! Thank you God for most this amazing experience!” My second thought might be, where'd that come from, why is it there?
Finally, hallelujah deficiency happens when spiritual people forget to link God to a sight, sound, or experience, to name it and praise it is to experience Divine goodness. Lewis' concern was that people simply want more and more of a good thing and in the process neglect to live into the moment, to feel the joy, and hold the holiness, the mystery that has pulled at our souls.
The day after I was released from the hospital several weeks ago, a wise visiting nurse advised me to recognize and be mindful of what was hurting. At a mostly subliminal level I'd been living with chronic pain for more than four years and I was seriously hallelujah anemic! Following her counsel, I realized that the chronic pain of those years was and is completely gone and that the surgical pain would, in due course, go away. I saw how my bum knee and I fit the deficiency conditions: burdened, tired, pained, angry and grieving the injury, not paying enough attention, and more linear and rational than grateful and praise-full. The anemia spilled over into daily life: family, work, leisure, biking and gym. It was a long, dry stretch in that wilderness called toughing-it-out.
A number of people in this congregation live with chronic pain or illnes that will not be relieved. What inspires me is that they yet show up to sing with the choir, are fully present to their family and friends and to life, and find a measure of balance between their pain and their hallelujahs.
What do we do when we experience one or more symptoms of hallelujah deficiency, when the soul pumps sand rather than living water, and when there's a longing for refreshment and rejuvenation? It is a simple formula, familiar and essential:
• Slow down,
• Pay attention, and
• Live in the moment.
• Recognize the blessings, the awe, and the wonder.
• Hold the experience of thankfulness as it wells up.
• Pay attention to the love that flows into you though recognition and gratitude.
• With mindfulness, point your soul toward the goodness of God, then the hallelujahs pour out in loving kindnesss.
That sounds right and good, but how do we do these things? Nancy told me about a daily practice she's trying called 5-5-&-5. As get my routines back I am trying it. Each day you spend 5 minutes reading something that inspires you: favorite Psalms, quotes from the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Rumi or the Christian mystics. Keep it interesting and lively: intersperse diverse readings and add the music. Then give 5 minutes in stillness to jotting some notes about your thoughts on the reading. And, then give 5 minutes to meditation or a prayer where you present your deepest being to God in praise, adoration (as in hallelujah), or petition.
They help, but hallelujahs do not need nature's majesty to do its work on you. Just practice where you are, noting what slows you down and helps you do a U-turn into your deeper being. Take a time out at your desk, take in what's beyond the window, park the mini-van and take in the view, or gift yourself with a walk on the bike path after the kids are dropped off or a 10 minute walk along the Embarcadero waterfront – what ever, count your blessings and renew your hallelujah quotient. Here' a crazy, techy idea adapted from several of the Happiness Studies and a creativity project of the Defense Department's Advanced Research Project: choose an HQB, a Hallelujah Quotient Buddy, to support your desire to be fully alive in the presence of God's goodness. You agree to send each other a short text or twitter when you feel hallelujah, or have a 5-5-&-5 insight, or feel grateful or thank God, or recognize a blessing. Your HQB could be your supportive spouse, your BFF, a walking pal, or a soccer dad or mom.
Hallelujah's are not just for Easter and Pentecost. When we thrive on them, day-by-day, our lives are filled with peace and acts of loving kindness, and we feel at home, one with Christ and the world.
Check your hallelujah gauge – where is it low?
Picture the place where you go to slow down, pay attention, feel gratitude and love, and give voice to your blessing. Return often.
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