Wednesday greetings on a beautiful, cool summer morning here in Chicago.
As I was listening to the radio driving to work this morning, I noticed all the bad news that was being reported. In case you haven't been following what has been occurring in the city of Chicago, in the county of Cook, in the state of Illinois, our city, county, and state are in an alarming state of financial mess right now. A one percent county-wide sales tax, repealed a few years ago, is about to be re-instated. The pension funding issues seem insurmountable across city, county, and state governments. We already pay one of the highest sales taxes in the United States, currently 9.25%. With the impending increase, that will bring it to 10.25%. Frankly, this is an outrage to those of us in the middle class who pay our very high sales and property taxes faithfully. I sometimes fall into a sense of despair and helplessness about these very real issues in my own day-to-day life but, more importantly, in the lives of our team members here at World Library Publications. I try to do my best to ensure that the salaries and benefits our team members earn are fair and just but sometimes, especially in the face of these rising costs imposed on tax-paying citizens like us, it can get a bit overwhelming.
For me, I have been trying to look for a faith-based solution in my own personal life. A priest I met on the road a few weeks ago talked about Evangelii Gaudium. At a gathering of parishioners, he asked them to share their answers with one another to this simple question: "How do you experience the joy of the Gospel?" For the most part, the question was met with silence or very shallow answers at best.
One of the ways that I look for that joy is in the created order around me. I know this will all sound pie-in-the-sky to some of you and somewhat of a stretch, but I find that I need to have my eyes and ears and heart wide open to the small things about our lives and our world, even our commutes, to see the joy that comes from simply noticing the created order around us.
A few cases in point.
Two days ago, while driving my carpool colleagues home after a long day here at the office, I was stopped at a traffic light and noticed a red car in the lane next to me. This brought me to laughter. Notice the "lashes."
I decided I needed to do more than laugh, so I opened my car window and waved to the driver, trying to get her attention. When she noticed me waving, I yelled out. "That's wonderful. So cool! Thank you!" She smiled and we both laughed as the light turned green. The joy of the Gospel? Maybe.
Later that evening, a series of thunderstorms moved through, just south of where I live in downtown Chicago. I sat out on my balcony, transfixed by the sunset and the storms that followed.
This lifted my heart so much, especially in light of so much bad news about my city, county, and state.
Then, last night, after a twenty degree drop in temperatures here in Chicago, I found myself working busily at my dining room table. I happened to glance out on the balcony and caught the last rays of sunshine dancing on the flowers in my flower boxes. I walked out and snapped this photo.
Experiences like these simple three moments help contextualize things for me. Even when so much seems wrong with the world (my city, my county, my state), there is so much that can bring us joy, if only our eyes, ears, and hearts are open. And this all says to me that God has graced me with such an abundance of small joys. And I know there are many throughout the world (and perhaps the universe), who find it hard to find any joy at all.
I am reminded of a trip I took when I was in the seminary back in the early 1980's. It was a Third World immersion trip to Peru. As part of that journey, we traveled to the city of Chimbote, a city surrounded by fish processing plants. The air was constantly permeated by the worst odor I have ever experienced. It was gut-wrenching for days on end. And I remember being in a crowded bus going through the town and I looked out and saw a group of children playing outside a Catholic school. They were in bright blue uniforms and, as our bus drove by, they looked up at us in the bus and they waved so enthusiastically. Their smiles were some of the brightest and happiest I have ever seen. With the stench of the fish-processing plants nearly choking me and in the midst of my constant complaining about that stench, here I saw joy in its purest form. These children lived in one of the poorest places in the country and had to endure the smell every minute of their lives. But the joy that radiated from them taught me so much about my own privileged life. I was embarrassed, humbled, and grateful for one of my life's deepest "teachable moments."
I know that I still have far to go on my own journey of faith. I wonder where God is calling me to discover the joy of the Gospel even more. And more deeply. Grateful today for the gift of noticing. Noticing the small things.
This all reminds me of a piece of music, Wide Open, which we publish here at WLP.
Take a listen.
Gotta sing. Gotta pray.