29 August 2019

Delighting in God

Delighting in God
by Troy Cady

Moments of joy are the bookmarks of the soul. Like folds on the corners of the pages of your life, moments of joy are wrinkles that point you to something good. Turn to a joyful page mentally and you could swear you were there again physically. Despite some hard things I’ve experienced over the years, I am grateful that if you were to pick up the unfinished story of my life, you would see many, many page corners turned over—reminders that life has truly been filled with joys too many to count, unforgettable moments of delight, grace and wonder.
I think of childhood winters in Minnesota, playing hockey on an outdoor rink with friends from the neighborhood. In my memory, I can smell the wood burning in the stove-fire from the warming house, I can feel the heat and hear the laughter after my oldest brother told one of his many jokes.
I wonder: as you reflect on your own story…what pages are earmarked—what special moments of pure joy would we encounter there? I invite you now to enjoy a bit of silence as you turn in your mind’s eye to one of these pages.
I am convinced we can never have enough of such goodness. So, in this essay I invite us to look more deeply at the theme of delight. In another essay, I considered an aspect of delight that we don’t often think about: it’s the reality that God delights. Zephaniah 3:17 says that God delights in us and sings over us. God is not a killjoy; he loves us so much he actually likes us, enjoys us.
I write this in hopes that we will get caught up in God’s goodness to the point where we can reflect God’s delight and wonder in our own lives. To that end, in this teaching I want to explore 1) why delight matters, 2) what it is and 3) a few ways we are invited to live in delight.  

Why delight matters
First, why does this topic matter? To be honest, talking about living a delightful life seems like a luxury to us. I mean…who has time to talk about enjoying life when there’s so much work to be done, wrongs to be righted, and improvements to be made? Ultimately, this is why this topic matters. As a society, we are constantly driven to accomplish more and we feel guilt or shame if we don’t.  Sadly, this is an indicator to me that we tend to take ourselves too seriously.
To be sure, this mindset of crippling seriousness easily infects us. We live in a world where bad news dominates the daily media cycle and Facebook turns others into faceless abstractions such that we would do better to call it Hatebook. It’s easy to take ourselves too seriously when we are overwhelmed by negativity, fear and anger. This causes us to suffer from what author Christine Aroney-Sine describes as “play deprivation, nature deficit disorder, awe depletion, compassion fatigue, imagination suppression, and more.”[1] And, if it is true that God is, in his very essence, filled with delight, joy, and creativity, then it is also true that, as Aroney-Sine asserts, “…we suffer from God deprivation too.”[2]
Our need for delight is not a new concept. In the thirteenth century, Thomas Aquinas asserted that delight matters because it is essential for happiness—and happiness, he says, is “the last end [or goal] of human life.”[3]
In commenting on this, Peter Kreeft, a philosopher at Boston College, says that happiness is the ultimate goal in life “because all seek it as an end [in itself], not as a means to any further end...No one seeks happiness,” he says, “in order to be rich, or powerful, or wise, but people seek riches, or power, or wisdom because they think these will make them happy...”[4]
That’s why Aquinas devotes four large sections of his magnum opus, the Summa Theologica, to the matter of happiness. In one article, he provides four reasons as to why he thinks delight is essential for happiness.[5] 1) Delight, he says, is “a preamble and preparation” for happiness. Just as one needs instruction if one is to understand science, so delight is a teacher who prepares us for the eternal art of happiness. 2) Delight, he says, perfects happiness. It is like the soul of the body. If happiness is the objective state of total well-being, delight is the subjective experience of it. Delight perfects happiness because, through delight, we know first-hand that we are happy. 3) Delight, he says, is a helper to happiness, like a friend helping another friend achieve what could not be done alone. When we feel lost and lonely, delight is a wise companion showing us the way to happiness. And, 4) Aquinas observes that delight is essential for happiness because it is “attendant” to happiness, like heat is attendant to fire.

The nature of delight
Aquinas’ fourth observation does more than tell us why delight is important; it also tells us about the nature of delight. The mystery of being human is that no person you ever meet is only a mind, or emotion or a body. To be fully human (and gladly so) is to integrate mind, emotion and body—just as it is in the nature of a flame to always integrate heat, light and the substance (or body) of fire. To blaze with life, humans integrate (as Peter Kreeft puts it) “the light of the fire of life” and “the heat of the fire of life”[6]—while the fire itself is given tangible expression through our bodies.
Delight integrates these life-fire qualities of light, heat and substance. We experience it often as warmed affections or quickened emotions, but we also experience it when our intellect has been enlightened and we learn something new. What’s more, our mind and heart converge in delight such that we can actually sense it physically in our bodies—and sometimes this works the other way around, too. Our body has the capacity to tell us when our mind relishes an exciting new discovery or when our feelings are telling us we are falling in love. The taste of sweet fruit, or the sound of ocean waves or the tenderness and passion of sex all testify to the way delight unifies body, mind and heart. Just as it is impossible to pick apart the light, heat and substance of a flame, so it is impossible to separate what makes us wonderfully and mysteriously human. 
Because of this, I find it helpful to think of delight as the soul of life itself. And the expression “Bless the Lord, O my soul” (Ps. 103:1) illustrates this vividly. We often relate this expression to “the spiritual life,” imagining the words “bless” and “soul” as invisible realities. But the expression “bless the Lord, O my soul” points us to the body from first to last because the word “bless” here is the Hebrew word “baruch” or “barak”, meaning “to kneel.” And the word “soul” is “nephesh”—which means “neck.”[7] Significantly, the neck is the crossroads where blood, oxygen and the electrical signals of the nervous system pass through to integrate the mind, heart, lungs, and extremities in one glorious living, breathing, pulsing, walking, and reaching wonder.
Thus, “Bless the Lord, O my soul” could be rendered expansively as: “Bend the knee to the Lord, O my everything. Neck, do your work. Let my mind be rapt in wonder, let my heart (my emotion) be amazed and enjoy how good God is…and let my body show it: let me laugh and sing, shout, cry, run, rest and rise. Let worship sink deep into my bones; drive me to my knees because God is awesome and wonderful and beyond understanding. Make me a put-together person.”
The expression denotes wholeness, which the Bible describes as “shalom”—total well-being. It’s a vision of human flourishing and, indeed, the flourishing of all living things. In Psalm 72, we get a vivid picture of this “blessed” life of shalom. The Psalm was written by King Solomon during a time of peace and prosperity. Food was never lacking and the nation’s intellectual endeavors gained international recognition. It was a golden age. Though this psalm serves as a picture of Israel during the time of Solomon, it can also be taken as a description of what happens when people and the world are whole (or put-together) by delighting in God.
The Psalm says a world of shalom is a world where justice is done, the oppressed are defended, and children are fed. It says we are rescued from violence and the land is fruitful. As the psalmist finishes painting this picture for us, he observes in verse seventeen: “Then all nations will be blessed through him [the king], and they will call him blessed.”
Our picture of the happy life is enriched here because the word blessed appears in two different forms: “barak” and “asher.” Both can be translated as “blessed” but the former means “to kneel” while the latter connotes “gladness and happiness,” or “to make glad” or “to be happy.”
The first instance this word appears in the Bible is when Jacob’s wife Leah has a child and names him Asher. Upon his birth, she exclaims how happy she is and that others will call her happy, too, so she is going to call the child “Happy” or “Asher.” In Leah’s story, happiness is both an objective state of being and a subjective experience, both a noun and a verb.
That is the picture we get in Psalm 72 and it’s actually an image of a king kneeling to serve, such that the nations are blessed and the king is “happy” because the nations are blessed.
Princeton scholar Ellen Charry refers to this all-encompassing vision of shalom as asherism. It sounds like a strange concept, but Charry sums it up simply: “God enjoys our happiness and we enjoy God’s happiness.”[8] Asherism holds forth the hope that one day we will experience happiness not as a momentary experience but as a permanent, lasting reality—as it is in God’s very self. It affirms that God made all things out of God’s own deep gladness and joy—and God made humans in God’s image to reflect and experience that same gladness and joy. God wants all that is in God’s being and all that proceeds from God’s being to return to God, to flow in and out continuously in eternal gladness, like an endless ocean of deep, enduring happiness.

Ways to practice delight
In her book God and the Art of Happiness Ellen Charry includes several practical outcomes of asherism and I will mention two before considering other ways to practice delight as a means to happiness.
First, Charry asserts that to grow “in the art of happiness” it’s good to steward our talents and strengths well.[9] God, in utter gladness, has made each of us unique and it delights God when we notice, appreciate and live in step with the special abilities he has given us. Charry encourages us to be “unashamed” of our gifts, so if someone shares with you how you have blessed them, you can just say thank you to them and to God for making you the way he did. Just delight!
A second way Charry encourages us to practice delight is to enjoy creation by stewarding it well.[10] For those who are especially dedicated to creation care, it is good to remember to just enjoy creation along the way and to let yourself be amazed by nature’s ability to heal itself. In our work to save the planet we can sometimes feel overwhelmed. In those instances, you might like to try imagining God right by our side, smiling, sweaty and singing as he tends the fields and forests, rivers and lakes. He notices the butterflies and bees before we do, so it’s good to let God’s own sustenance of creation delight us deeply.
In any case, whether we are stewarding our gifts or stewarding creation, both types of stewardship are rooted in a key aspect of delight—which is noticing what God notices by bringing all your senses, your full self, to your waking hours. I think of the delight of cooking and relishing the taste of food that has been lovingly prepared. Just the act of slowing down to savor a meal can do wonders to strengthen your posture towards delight. I think of the wonder of music, the sounds of the wind, crickets and birds; we have endless opportunities to delight in God with our ears. I think of the many delights we can enjoy as we slow down to notice the scent of a recent rainfall or a plot of flowers, the smell of a puppy or fresh-ground coffee. Our eyes can delight as we slowly take in a painting of thick oil textures, a black-and-white photograph, or the veins and colors of a maple leaf. Gazing at the clouds, looking at the waves, or taking in the sunset can fill us with awe and wonder. Feeling the sand beneath your feet, gently touching a baby’s cheek, or just enjoying the feeling of water flowing freely through your hands can be great ways to delight in God. There is no contradiction between a godly life and a sensual life.
A key aspect of delight simply involves slowing down enough to be fully present. The older I get the more I am convinced this is the hardest thing for us to do. In a culture that values the self-made individual, there is little that makes us feel stranger than the experience of doing nothing. As soon as we have nothing to do, we fill it with something else to do.
In his book Theology of Play, Jürgen Moltmann observes how severely our desire for productivity impinges on our quest for happiness. He notes that, for most people, even vacation has become a phenomenon that must be put to useful ends.[11] Sadly, we often place unhelpful expectations on our rest, measuring it by how effective or fun or productive it was. Somehow, vacation itself even becomes work. Is it any wonder that, irony of ironies, the leisure sector is considered an industry? When rest becomes a market, something is seriously wrong. 
The Bible commends to us the practice of Sabbath to help us detox from our addiction to doing and productivity. In Hebrew it is the word “shabbat” and it literally means “stop, rest.”[12] The first instance of the word in Scripture is used in reference to God. It comes right after Genesis 1 where we have a picture of God creating the entire world out of sheer delight. Along the way, the story tells us that God noticed what he had made and blessed it. But then day 7 arrives and the text surprises us. Instead of continuing to make more wonderful things, God stops (“sabbaths”) and rests, truly rests. He just does nothing and he just enjoys being with what he has made.
Lest we think this anticlimactic, the writer gives us a clue as to why this “work of rest” is the pinnacle of all God’s works. The writer says that God not only “blessed” the seventh day, but it says he “got married to it.” Most translations render the Hebrew as “called it holy” but the Jewish scholar Abraham Joshua Heschel points out that the phrase “sanctified it” or “called it holy” connotes images of “betrothal” and “marriage.”[13] In other words, God loved this seventh day of rest so much that he said, “I want to marry you; I will cleave to your side forever and love you passionately.”
This is why the rabbinic community has historically referred to the seventh day as Queen Sabbath, because on the seventh day God, the King, took to himself a Queen—the nobility, the dignity, delight and wonder…of rest.
A teacher I had recently told a story about an experience he had with his grandson that illustrates how wonderful pure, simple rest can be. He was visiting his family in Central America and they were at a small, local grocery store. His grandson, who was about three, said: “Grandpa! Come here!” The boy led his grandpa to the back of the store where there was a pastry counter. He wanted the largest chocolate donut you have ever seen, so…Grandpa bought it. By the time they left the store, the boy’s face and shirt front were covered in chocolate frosting but he still had a lot of donut to eat. As they walked towards home, the boy kept eating his donut but they had to be careful because the sidewalk was very narrow and there were cars whizzing by on a narrow street to their left with a high wall towering up on their right. At a certain point, the wall lowered, so the boy could sit down on it just to keep enjoying his donut. Grandpa noticed the boy had stopped, so he turned back to catch him up. And as he approached his grandson, the little boy just gave his Grandpa a look—and motioned (without a word) for him to sit down. And there they sat silently, just doing nothing, just enjoying being with each other, delighting in the moment. As the boy’s grandpa told that story to us, he explained: “That’s why I think of God as a three-year-old boy.”

I think the grandfather in that story is onto something: God really could be a child, inviting us to be a child, too. I love how Ann Lamott puts it in her book Bird by Bird: “Try walking around with a child who’s going, ‘Wow, wow! Look at that dirty dog! Look at that burned-down house! Look at that red sky!’ And the child points and you look and you see, and you start going, ‘Wow! Look at that huge crazy hedge! Look at that teeny tiny little baby! Look at the scary dark cloud!’ I think this is how we are supposed to be in the world—present and in awe.”
Is it any wonder Jesus said that we must “change and become like little children” if we are to live in God’s kingdom? (Mt. 18:3) To delight in God is just to play like God plays, to enjoy God and the world God has made, to rest, to stop long enough to notice, to take ourselves lightly, to just be fully present to others, to honor moments of silent wonder, to get your body into it…kneeling, savoring, listening, embracing, and singing. Play puts us together, within and without. In play and delight we lay down our compulsion to control and consume; we lay down our own agenda…and just rest. Since we cannot achieve the end of happiness without delight, let us practice it with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.

[1] from The Gift of Wonder (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2019), 4.
[2] Ibid., 4.
[3] Thomas Aquinas. Summa of the Summa (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990), 349.
[4] Peter Kreeft. Summa of the Summa (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990), 350.
[5] Thomas Aquinas. Summa of the Summa (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990), 382.
[6] Peter Kreeft. Heaven: The Heart’s Deepest Longing (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989), 125.
[7] Eugene Peterson. Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2008), 36.
[8] Ellen Charry. God and the Art of Happiness (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2010), 275.
[9] Ibid., 275-276.
[10] Ibid., 276.
[11] Jürgen Moltmann. Theology of Play, trans. Reinhard Ulrich (New York: Harper & Row, 1972), 8-9.
[12] Eugene Peterson. Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2008), 109.
[13] Quoting a rabbi, Abraham Joshua Heschel writes “…sanctification is the Hebrew word for marriage.” And: “The Hebrew word le-kadesh, to sanctify, means…to consecrate a woman, to betroth.” See Heschel. The Sabbath (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005), 55, 51-52.

A God Who Delights

A God Who Delights
by Troy Cady

I invite you to think of someone you like a lot, the kind of person that lifts your spirit whenever you are around them. Try to think of just what it is you like about them and describe the qualities you admire with specific words or phrases. Maybe you’d like to give thanks for the gift of that person in your life.
Now consider this: the way you think about that person is the way God thinks about you. God delights in you. In fact, God is full of delight for the whole world. That, quite simply, is all I want to look at in this essay.

God is not a killjoy
For the better part of my life I didn’t think of God as someone who is full of delight. At various times I have thought of God as a standard of perfection to which I could never measure up, a God who could only be pleased with me if I performed well for him and others. I’ve gone through seasons where it seemed I could never stop committing a certain sin and at different points I was sure I had reached the limit where God would say, “Okay, that’s it. I’m done with you. You’re hopeless.” I imagined that if I ever saw God face to face, he would want to know why it is that I can come up with lots of good ideas but never complete any of them. This God is the God of regret, a God defined by all my lost chances and failed tests. This is the killjoy God.
But this is not the kind of God the Bible describes. The God of the Bible is a God whose mercies are new every morning. This God never says, “I’m done with you.” This God says, “You’re mine and I love you so much. I made you: I will never stop loving you.” This God believes in you and sees good things in you (because this God is the one who put those good things in you). This God loves you so much that he actually likes you.
That might sound like a strange thing to say because we tend to think that loving someone is greater than liking them, but when we apply that notion to God we end up with the twisted thought that perhaps God has found a way to love us without actually liking us. We might quote the verse “God is love” but somewhere inside us there is a disconnect between the love of God and the delight of God. Yes, God loves us—but is it possible, could it be…that God delights in us so much he actually likes us?
The prospect of this is so wonderful that I encourage you to spend an entire month letting that simple truth sink into your heart, mind and body. Because God loves, God delights.
This truth is brought out beautifully by a key verse I encourage you to meditate on over and over again. It’s from Zephaniah 3:17 where it says,

“The Lord your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.”

Just soak that in now. If there was ever a doubt that God delights in you, this verse lays that doubt to rest: “he will take great delight in you.”
In my study of that text this week, I looked at the word delight and discovered that there are several words in Hebrew that can be translated as delight. It’s as if God’s delight is like a diamond with many faces. Turning the diamond to see a different side brings out different colors, each one fascinating to behold.
In this verse, a certain variety of delight holds center stage. Notice that the verse is formed by five lines. The latter three lines form their own triplet. In this case, some Hebrew scholars render the last three lines like so:

“he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing.”

The phrase “he will take great delight in you” conveys the image of God “rejoicing over you with gladness.” I love that: God is joyful…filled with gladness.
The set-up to this establishes a situation of close, personal safety. It describes God as a Mighty One, someone who is strong enough to save you from trouble. This “mighty one” is named and located in the first phrase where it says: “Yahweh, your God, is in your midst.”
Yahweh is God’s name, not God’s title. The writer here is calling God by name and reminding us that Yahweh is very close to us (in our midst) keeping us safe. Within this place of intimate, personal safety, God freely rejoices over you with gladness (line 3) and with singing (line 5). Thus, line 4 makes it clear: when we experience that kind of love, that kind of delight, it quiets the uproar in our hearts.
How we need that kind of love today! This verse tells us quite simply that God is not a killjoy. He is up-close and personal. He is safe. He sings gladly over you. He quiets you, loves you, delights in you.

God is not an It
This verse also suggests to us another myth we need to lay to rest about God and it is this: God is not an It. This poem speaks of God in personal terms. You’ll notice that in this particular verse, the poem would fall flat were it to speak of God in terms of an It: “it will take great delight in you, it will quiet you with its love, it will rejoice over you with singing.”  That kind of textual rendering would sound kind of creepy, actually!
In this instance, the verbs happen to be in the third person masculine singular which indicates the “he” pronoun: “he will take great delight in you, he will quiet you...”
The emphasis, however, is not on the “he” but on the personal nature of God. God is not an It, but nor is God solely a “he.” Other texts dealing with the delight of God also bring out the feminine personal aspect of God, speaking of God in terms of “she” or “her.”
Look at Proverbs 8 for a great example of this. In this text, God is very closely identified with Wisdom who is portrayed as a woman. In fact, Wisdom is so closely associated with God in this text that many interpreters feel it is like God talking about God's self in the voice of a woman. In my study for this topic, I looked closely at this text because it tells us in verses 30 and 31 that Wisdom is “filled with delight.” In wanting to learn what kind of delight the text is describing, I discovered other ways of translating how God talks about Herself here. And I love this translation, which says:

"I was an artisan with God.
I was filled with delight day after day,
playing, laughing always in God's presence,
playing, laughing, enjoying the whole world,
delighting in all humanity."

One popular translation of the Hebrew text renders “playing, laughing” as “rejoicing” but really the idea of delight here is one of playing and laughing. Additionally, the phrase “I was constantly at his side” could be translated literally as “I was an artisan.” Taken together, this text encourages us to think of God as a laughing, playful painter or sculptor who happens to be a woman—which is very different than how we normally think of God.
Another delightful feminine image of God draws a parallel between God and the city of God’s people, Jerusalem—the “City of Peace.” In Isaiah 66:12-13, God and this city of peace are closely identified when God says,

“I will extend peace to her like a river,
and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream;
you will nurse and be carried on her arm
and dandled on her knees.
As a mother comforts her child,
so will I comfort you;
and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.”

I love how the text surprises us here. In the first part, it sounds like God is describing Jerusalem as a mother but then in the last three lines Jerusalem is equated with God’s motherhood.
Though this picture of a city of peace has a literal counterpart in the land of Israel, it also expresses a desire of God’s to see every city, including ours, to become a place of peace. Notice that, for that to happen, God plays the role of mother, nursing us, carrying us on her arm, playing with us like a mother playing with her toddler on her knees. It’s a picture of comfort, of being nourished by God’s delight, carried by her and enjoying her.
I think it’s simply wonderful how this text portrays God as delighting in our city neighborhoods. When we think of the city we often think of all the problems that need to be fixed, but when God thinks of the city God doesn’t start with the problem, God starts with delight. And God’s delight is our very peace. And God’s delight is personal.

God is not Plato’s Unmoved Mover
Another myth we need to dispel about God is something we’ve inherited from a long tradition of European philosophy. It comes from Plato who described God as “the Unmoved Mover.” This God is distant and stoic, unmoved by our plight.
In Isaiah 38, we get another image of God’s delight in the story of Hezekiah who was on the verge of death. He cried out to God and, when he recovered, Hezekiah wrote a song to thank God for answering his prayer. In verse 17 we get a beautiful picture of another side of God’s delight, where Hezekiah writes: “In your love you kept me from the pit of destruction…”
The imagery in Hebrew, however, is even more vivid than this. It is a picture of attachment where God actually gets into the pit with Hezekiah, who testifies: “You attached to me, and loved my soul out of the pit.” It’s a picture of a God who not only moves to restore life but who jumps right into the pit of hell to wrap his arms around us and love us back to life. In this text, God’s delight is God’s passionate, merciful attachment to us.
This image of a leaping, attaching, delighting God makes up the very center of the core story we use with children at our church year after year. We start the story by saying that God dances so hard he leaps right out of himself back into himself. We say that God was so joyful, he leapt into our world in love. “And now,” we say, “God is inviting you to dance with him.”
Contrary to Plato’s Unmoved Mover, the God of the Bible is not static…the God of the Bible is ek-static, which means “out of oneself.” When you are in a state of ecstasy, you have the sensation that you are having an out-of-body experience. It’s transcendent.
The philosopher Peter Kreeft says that’s what joy is. It’s the state of leaping out of your own skin into another and back again. When we talk about “falling in love” this is the kind of thing we’re really talking about. It would probably be more accurate to say we’re drowning in joy. All at once you feel nothing like yourself and more like yourself than you ever have before.
I love how Kreeft describes this in the specific terms of Christian faith. He writes: “We leap to God because he leaped to us in Christ, and God leaped to us because he is eternally leaping within himself like a flea circus. The whole of reality is ek-static leaping, a cosmic dance, God engaging in a wild acrobatic display with humanity.”[1]
This is a picture of the amazing love of God for each of us; it’s a love that’s immersed in an inexhaustible ocean of joy, whose depths we could never completely plumb. In Jesus, God leapt into who we are so we could leap into who he is. For us to fully grasp the significance of this kind of love, I think that instead of saying “God is love” we might do better to say, “God is always falling in love with us.”

God is beyond reason
If we think of God this way, it will help us put in place another common misconception we have about God, and it’s this: somehow we have got it into our head that God always has to make sense to us. We equate God to reason—and, though God is wise, wisdom is greater than reason. When we equate God to reason, we end up trying to put God in a box.
The older I get the more I am convinced that the only way we will be able to make sense of God is if we stop trying to make sense of God all the time. If it is true that God is always falling in love with us and longing for us to return those affections, it follows that at various points in life we’ll be carried away by that love, even irrationally so.
God’s love and God’s ways may be reasonable but they are not merely reasonable. God’s love, God’s delight goes beyond reason. It’s because of God’s delight that we will always encounter God as a mystery.
In Isaiah 11 we have a vivid picture of God’s mystery where we read that “infants will play near the hole of the cobra.” That image of play is an image of delight, but for Pete’s sake…notice where the kid is playing! It’s like Isaiah was watching some movie where the hero has a drug-induced hallucination and we see all kinds of weird things like wolves sharing a house with lambs, cows feeding with bears, lions eating straw and Indiana Jones as a toddler, laughing while sitting on a carpet of snakes. It makes no sense!
Thankfully, looking back on the text now, we can make some sense of it, but even then its meaning still defies all logic and reason. Today we know that in the advent of Jesus we witnessed a child for whom Satan, the great serpent, was nothing more than a plaything. And this is so not because Jesus became so great but rather because God became so small, a child.  The delight of God confounds how seriously Satan takes himself and how seriously we take ourselves, too. God overcomes our desire for greatness by becoming a child who delights.

And therein lies the key if we are to comprehend even the slightest fragment of this God who delights: we must become as God became; we must become like a little child.
I love how G.K. Chesterton relates God to childhood. He writes:

“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that he has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” -from Orthodoxy

It's true: we encounter the Ancient of Days most fully when we encounter God as an eternal child, filled with wonder and joy, delight and irrational (but truly free) love. We cannot reason our way into the delight of God. The delight of God is a leap, it’s a foolhardy attachment, it’s a continual falling in love with those of us who haven’t the first clue how very, very, very much God loves us, how she sings over us, dances his life away, nurses us, carries us, rescues us, and asks us to come out and play. The invitation is to change and become like a child because God is an eternal child. The invitation is to simply enjoy a God who delights. Amen.

[1] Peter Kreeft. Heaven: The Heart’s Deepest Longing (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989), 149.

I invite you to read part 2 of this series on delighting in God here

29 May 2019


A little time this morning to be still, to be quiet and listen again. An impression. There’s a word I don’t hear an awful lot in the course of everyday life: faithfulness. And yet, anything that really matters, anything that’s worth pursuing—cherishing—requires faithfulness. Faithfulness is that strong, patient quality that enables you to keep going when the way seems too long, when the body and mind become weary, when your emotional fuel tank is running on fumes and you just feel like giving up. Faithfulness is what gets you through it all.

Faithfulness has an irrational quality to it. The person who remains faithful in the face of so much personal and circumstantial opposition often seems crazy to others, even to oneself. Faithfulness feels risky. Humility makes this possible; the faithful person keeps going despite what others may think. They care not for something so contingent as reputation. To be faithful is to stand on a rock in a world made of sand, to turn your face to the wind that changes direction from day-to-day and would change you with it. Paradoxically, this is how faithfulness changes you.

The greatest things in life come to us by the way of faithfulness: lasting relationships, reconciliation, societal change, personal livelihood, mental innovation and material invention. It is certain that in all these endeavors one will become weary, reach a crisis point, feel it is easier to just turn back. Given that, faithfulness proves to be nothing short of an everyday miracle hiding in plain sight. A tribute this morning, this day…to faithfulness.


by troy cady
*Photo by Ani Kalleshi via Unsplash. Creative Commons license.

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27 May 2019

Memorial Day

a day to remember
when, in childhood,
guns were made of
thumbs and index fingers
and nothing more
when the neighbor I shot
got back up
when the game was over

a day to remember
how, growing up,
I learned to control
to fight for the upper hand
for something more
how my neighbor became my enemy
how I pushed them down
how love became a word game

a day to remember
why, in the days to come,
hope will have the final say
a world open-handed
and so much more
to savor mysteries like
when love had its last supper
but still nourishes
how love reconciles
why love plays and is playful
why life is more than just a game


memorial day
by troy cady

25 May 2019

love, play and childhood

Photo by Blake Barlow via Unsplash. Creative Commons license

A life of significance is not found in what you accomplish, but in who you love. This is what children teach me. Never have I met a child who wants to have an account of my importance according to my resumé. Sadly, however, I have met some children who have been trained by accomplishment-driven adults to become accomplishment-driven themselves. I can see it in their eyes: the desire to please, to be regarded as special.

Nothing is more welcome to a child than to enjoy the presence of someone who wants to be with them not because of what they can do but just because of who they are. And the same is true for any person of any age. How liberating it is to be loved by someone who asks not “What have you done?” but rather asks in a pure, non-critical way, “How are you doing? Tell me honestly. I’m listening.”

This is really why I am passionate about play. Nothing communicates value quite like it for, in play, one is really saying: “I just want to be with you. I’m not here to get something out of you or to make you prove yourself to me. Let’s just enjoy being together.” Play makes space for love.

And this is how I think of God. Play makes space for God, because God makes space for love. And this is why I see God most clearly in children, and in people of any age who are well-practiced at living as a child-at-heart.


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29 March 2019

when words fail

only so much
a word can do

I cannot take adequate notes
of these musical notes
straining, stretched out,
like Christ on the cross,
resolved to be unresolved

words cannot be wet
like sweat,
cannot run to get help,
cannot dwell with you
like Jesus at the well
when you feel like hell

I find words unequal
to grief,
they fall short
when I need relief,
the peace and quiet
of silent wonder,

an embrace,
a wry smile
and the graze of
her warm fingers
on my cold wrist,
the rising emotion
behind the quickening pulse,
hopscotch and crooked chalk lines
on the sidewalk,
the roar and press of a crowd,
winter’s brittle stalks
slender and snapping,
the old stone bench
across the way,
carved by rain,
backless and crooked,
the soul beloved,
trackless, knocked off-level
by childlike joy and sacred laughter,
the thick presence
of wild reverence

words could never match
the substance of
all life’s worth,
expressed in the fullness of silence
from which these words spring
and to which they gladly return


when words fail
by troy cady

14 March 2019

Living Hospitably

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash
Living Hospitably
reflections by Troy Cady

Welcome can be so much more than a one-time, one-way event. It can become a perpetual openness to give and receive. Real welcome does not wait for the other to enter one’s space. A welcoming person moves outward towards another, curious, wanting to know the other. And the best welcomes are progressive. A kind word is a good beginning, but a listening ear, a happiness to waste time in the doorway of another’s space, and a willingness to be vulnerable…these are the postures that lead to fuller welcomes. Whether we realize it or not, every day is an invitation to extend welcome not only to strangers, but also to offer richer, deeper welcomes to those we already know.


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08 March 2019

i think i should know you

i feel like i should know you.
Remind me.
Was that you i saw
working harder for
a smaller reward?
i might have been there
that morning
after the night-beating;
you were drinking black coffee,
circling job leads
in the paper’s classifieds,
willing to take any job you could get.
Surely a person of such
strength and enduring dignity,
a person such as yourself,
i could not forget.
i think that was you
i saw carry on,
disregarding those lewd words.
Were you put in your place?
How you appear to have risen,
still to rise much more.
i think i heard
your (out)cry once.
i recognize your voice,
but not as well as i would like.
You bring a certain
unmatched intelligence
that has been the subject
of my negligence.

i’m sorry; i think i should know you.
i think i should know you by now.


i think i should know you
by troy cady
on International Women’s Day