Editor’s Column

October 2023 Issue of Thema: Listening While Whistling a Tune

In this issue of Thema, listen while whistling a tune and celebrate the joy of life. I recently lost my nephew and though grieving found expressions of God’s love uplifting, full of hope and wonder. I learned that the path of joy sometimes begins in moments of despair and sadness. I invite you to be spiritually deepened through reflections, art, literature, film, music, poetry and a sermon. 

Spiritual Director Sally Orcutt’s account of “Experiencing Joy on Retreat” is a reminder that we may bend but we will not break. She says, “What felt too big for me is never too big for God. I was reminded of Psalm 139, You hem me in (God), behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.” (Psalm 139:5).” She’d planned to use her eight-day silent retreat to come up with a rule for her life but came away realizing she didn’t need to plan everything out perfectly but could trust God to do for her what she could not do for herself.  

Enjoy the tribute to Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz from Seamus Heaney, Irish poet who received the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature. Heaney remarks, “His (Milosz) credibility was and remains the thing. There was nothing disingenuous about his professions of faith in poetry, which he once called philosophy’s “ally in the service of the good,” news that “was brought to the mountains by a unicorn and an echo.” 

Joel Clarkson, a composer of film, TV, and sacred music, offers a reflection on Psalm 126 and the theme of harvest. He recommends we listen to composer John Rutter’s rendition of the classic hymn, “Turn Our Captivity”.

Turn our captivity, O Lord, as a brook in the South.
They that sow in tears, shall reap in joyfulness.
Going they went and wept, casting their seeds.
But coming, they shall come with jollity, carrying their sheaves with them.

A YouTube link to access the performance of this hymn by the Cambridge Singers is provided.

Margaret Renkl, noted author and columnist, contributed “The Parable of the Squirrel Planted Pumpkins,” where she discovers pumpkins growing in her flowerbeds. She’d no idea that pumpkins could be a food source. In her upbringing in lower Alabama, her grandmother would never dream of putting a pumpkin pie on the Thanksgiving table. But as an adult, she came to enjoy “the squirrel-planted pumpkins in (her) flower bed as an example writ small of how the natural world once worked…” Her essay closes with an exquisite poem by Matthew King. 

“Listening while Whistling a Happy Tune,” by Franciscan Sister Deborah Lockwood, reminds us to “listen(ing) with an inner ear to wonder or amazement, to hear the melody of the Spirit giving deeper insight…” She reminds us that joy is here and now and she quotes Mary Oliver, who wrote in a poem, “If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it.” Life, Lockwood tells us is full of twists and turns that reflect God’s presence and “certainly, gives something to whistle about.” 

JR Tolkien, author of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, wrote a poem, “All Ye Joyful.”  In it readers will find a wonderful expression of joy:

Sing all ye joyful, now sing all together!

The wind’s in the tree-top, the wind’s in the heather;

The stars are in blossom, the moon is in flower,

And bright are the windows of night in her tower.

In response to such joy, hear the Duquesne Chamber Choir sing the uplifting hymn, “And the Father Will Dance” by Mark Hayes.  A YouTube link to access this hymn is provided.

Sr. Chris Koelhoffer, IHM, speaks of “Inner Harvesting.” She writes, In The Circle of Life, Joyce Rupp and Macrina Wiederkehr reflect, “Autumn is a wondrous metaphor for the transformation that takes place in the human heart each season. When we notice a subtle change of light outside our windows, we know the dark season is near.” The(se) authors invite us to ask significant questions about where we find ourselves in our own inner harvest: “What do we need to gather into our spiritual barns? What in our lives needs to fall away like autumn leaves so another life waiting in the wings can have its turn to live?” 

Watch this heart-warming animated short film (61/2 minutes) “Hair Love.” It won an Oscar for a good reason. There’s a little girl with wild hair she can’t style the way she wants, a cat, and an African American father who learns how to fix his daughter’s hair for the first time. And a lovely ending that reveals the joy that springs from the love between a father and daughter.

Riffing off a reflection by author and Presbyterian minister, Frederick Buechner, Rev. Rindy Trouteaud considers Jesus’ words to “turn and become like children.” Using stories from a walk in the woods, a childhood memory of a trip to the library, and the averted “tragedy” of an AWOL dwarf hamster in the lives of her grandchildren, she imagines a “God who makes his home in every heart.” 

Our issue concludes with a deep dive into the Apostle Paul’s words of joy from Philippians 3. “Joy is a substance in our lives that is often conflated and mistaken for happiness. Indeed, you can experience happiness and joy at the same time but there is something long-lasting about joy. Happiness is a wonderful feeling that we get to visit from time to time but we don’t live there…Joy, on the other hand, is a place where we live not just visit. Joy is that substance that keeps us going through difficult times. It’s the good soil where hope can thrive. It’s the guarantee behind encouragement, endurance, and the ability to keep going,” begins Dr. Chris Burton, Director of the Leadership Institute at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, operator of an antiracism consulting firm, Di Baddist Consulting, and co-host of the podcast CrossStreets. Burton says, “Joy is a discipline.” How do we exercise joy in our lives and how does that impact those around us? Listen as Burton answers these questions in his sermon called, “Exercise of Joy.”

Thema Editor, the Reverend Christina St Clair, was born and raised in London, England. She came to the United States when she was eighteen and is a U.S. citizen. Her passionate interest in spirituality led her from Eastern meditation to become a follower of Christ. She earned degrees in philosophy and pastoral ministry. She eventually pastored two Protestant churches (United Methodist and Presbyterian). She is a certified spiritual director from West Virginia Institute for Spirituality and practices Reiki distant healing which is like intercessory prayer. 

Her latest historically accurate novel, Naomi and Ruth; Loyalty Among Women, is intended for women of all religious persuasions or none. www.loyaltyamongwomen.com