A Mighty Fortress
I love to tell stories but I have one story that I’m reluctant to share.
I’m reluctant to share it not because it’s embarrassing or because I would feel too vulnerable.
I’m reluctant to share it because it is about a powerful moment. A moment that was so powerful I can still easily recall it today, but it was the briefest of moments and I long to do it justice.
But I’m going to try.
Thirty years ago I was working in a metal shop in Phoenix, Arizona during the day and attending college at night. I was a year out of Basic Training for the Army Reserves. I’d broken up with my first real girlfriend a few months earlier and knew, after just a few months of employment, that I had no desire to make a career out of my job in the shop.
My body was in great shape but my spirit and mind were suffering.
On a brisk December morning I drove to work. It wasn’t far – barely 4 miles – so the heater in my crappy old Subaru barely had time to warm up. The sky to the east was beginning to lighten as Amy Grant’s first Christmas album played in my tape deck. My car was a piece of junk but it had a bitchin’ set of Alpine speakers that I had cranked up way higher than my mother would have approved.
“A Mighty Fortress” began vibrating through my car as I ground my way south through the last few blocks. The sky was quickly getting lighter as the horns began building above the strings. I turned east as the horns surrendered to a soft piano and Amy singing “Angels we have heard on high, sweetly singing o’er the plain….”
And just as I was pulling into my parking spot, as the mountains in their reply echoed their joyous strain, the first rays of dawn pierced the pink sky over the Superstition Mountains and the horns burst forth with a vigorous “bum bah bah BUM!”.
There are many magical moments in my life, but this moment, scarcely 3 or 4 seconds, is one of the most powerful memories I have.
It was awesome. It was invigorating. It was inspiring.
It was joyful.
I love this word.
We use it a lot around the holiday season. Joy to the world. Joyeux Noel. Comfort and Joy. Our neighbor down the street has just a simple “JOY” spelled out with Christmas lights on his fence.
I find it easy to slip joy into the same folder as “happy” or “content” or “pleasant”, but joy is more powerful.
Happy, content and pleasant are at home in the sun. They are daytime words, lounging by the pool. Happy blows out candles on a cake. Pleasant floats around on an inner tube. Content flops down on a chaise lounge and takes a nap.
We settle for content and enjoy happiness, but we long for joy.
Joy often builds in the shadows, toiling away unseen and unnoticed until the right time.
Joy climbs the peaks in the dark and bursts out on top with the dawn, fists raised high in triumph.
Joy is a flame. It bursts forth from pressure, when we grasp the Zippo, grind the gear and grate our skin and then delight in the spark that jumps into a flame.
It takes nurturing. It can take patience. It takes planning and sometimes a whole lot of faith, but when it catches it flares, lighting our lives and our paths.
It calls us to share that light with others.
My wish for you, as we experience the longest nights of the year, is to know that joy is building just over the horizon.
My hope for you is to see it pierce the morning, for it to light your way, warm you and inspire you to serve and encourage others.
JOY! To your world.
JOY! For the world.