The Mad Farmer and the Hard Work of Joy

It’s been a long couple of weeks, hasn’t it? What with Michael Brown’s grand jury; the grand jury on Eric Garner’s case; all the other recent headlines on police brutality; and on top of it, the ongoing hopelessness of immigration reform; the looming prospect of Keystone XL; the dry, dry winter; the intersectionality of it all.

Who even noticed we’re halfway through Advent? (On the church calendar, not the picture pop up calendar you buy from the toy store or the German market.) My church’s theme this Advent is Faith on Tiptoes, in the traditional four parts. No, you Mennonites, not bass, tenor, alto, soprano–the other four parts: hope, peace, joy love.

This week is joy. As I stumbled through planning this Sunday’s service, I wrestled with the hard work of joy. How can I tout joy when many in the congregation are struggling, with social issues as well as loss and conflict in the personal lives? How do we do joy?

Lucky for me, this week Wendell Berry burst into my life, as he does sometimes, with one of his mad farmer poems.

The Mad Farmer’s Love Song

O when the world’s at peace
and every man is free
then I will go down unto my love.

O and I may go down
several times before that.

This is my best definition of joy right now. The struggle is a joy, too, but it is tiring and often a paddling upstream. Sometimes we forget that it’s okay to go down to your love. That your love is the thing that will keep you going in this struggle–I don’t mean in a romantic sense, but that’s fine too, go down to that love. I mean any love that is a resting place. If that’s a cup of tea and staring out the window; an oven full of zwieback; a long run on barren trails; go down to your love. Take a moment to be nothing but joyful.

One of my favorite Bible stories is Jesus turning the water into wine. What moment is more joyous than this? And yet even the wedding is a subversive act in the Roman empire–to promise your love before the God YHWH and not Caesar and his gods. To hold a lavish celebration in spite of your day-to-day poverty. Take joy! We are so much more transcendent than our struggles. The scandal of abundance: that wine was drawn from the vessels that were supposed to be for purification rituals. That celebration purifies. That for no foreseeable reason, the Messiah says, “Keep on celebrating.”  Go down to your love, even though the world’s not yet at peace.

You who struggle for justice–let’s all work, this week, to go down to our love. To take joy because after all this is what salvation means. That the joy of our God is upon us and when the little child laughs–we laugh, too.

Mad Farmer Poems

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