Monthly Archives: May 2020

Down to Earth or Feeling Like Dirt?

Humility is the recognition that our gifts are from God, and this lets you sit relatively loosely to those gifts. Humility allows us to celebrate the gifts of others, but it does not mean you have to deny your own gifts or shrink from using them. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, The Book of Joy, p. 211

The Dalai Lama was reminding us throughout the week not to get caught up in roles, and indeed arrogance is the confusion between our temporary roles and our fundamental identity. The Book of Joy, p. 209

Humility: living with our feet planted on solid ground. Not trying to stand above anyone else, we live humbly.

Humiliation: being made to feel worthless by the thoughts, words, expressions, or actions of another or our own.

Knowing the difference between these two is critical. The first is being down to earth – a wonderful expression and an invaluable trait. The second is feeling like dirt: losing sight of our true identities (God’s beloved).

Aim for the first. Leave the second alone, either its giving (arrogance toward others) or receiving (losing sight of our own fundamental worth).

Not one of us is perfect, but all of us are beloved and precious.

[Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, Douglas Abrams; The Book of Joy: lasting happiness in a changing world, New York: Avery, 2016]

Pillar One: Perspective

Perspective: There Are Many Different Angles

It’s the chapter title for Desmond Tutu’s, the Dalai Lama’s, and Douglas Abram’s first chapter on the Eight Pillars of Joy [Book of Joy, New York: Avery, 2016, p. 193]. In a nutshell, the main point is that how we experience something is a matter of how we look at it as well as a matter of what we are looking at:

A healthy perspective really is the foundation of joy and happiness, because the way we see the world is the way we experience the world. Changing the way we see the world in turn changes the way we feel and the way we act, which changes the world itself. Or, as the Buddha says in Dhammapada, “With our mind we create our own world.” (p.194)

Taking a broader perspective, thinking long-term rather than immediate, and including the wants and needs of others in our deliberations can get us out of our small box reality and into something larger and more life-giving.  That’s true, but there’s more…

Sometimes a narrower focus brings to light beauty and joy that often goes unnoticed. This is especially true when life isn’t difficult. The value of a single tree can get lost in the forest.

Zooming in or stepping back, a change of perspective can open hearts and minds to the joy that each day holds, and sustain the soul in all circumstances.

What a marvelous thing that is.

Eight Pillars of Joy

I’ve been reading The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World these past couple of months – it’s the written version of a week-long visit at Dharamsala. Bishop Desmond Tutu, his holiness the Dalai Lama, and writer Douglas Abrams spend days discussing what true joy is, obstacles that prevent us from experiencing lasting joy, and the eight pillars that foster a joyful life. There are some wonderful stories, a few pictures, and a lot of play and laughter – something found on the many video clips of the encounter, and somehow found in the book’s very pages. In a time of uncertainty, this is a wonderful book to discuss with others.

It’s the pillars of joy that I’m reading at the moment. Why not read and write? If you have the time and inclination, pick up The Book of Joy and read along with me. I’d love to hear your thoughts…

Peace, Johnna

[Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, Douglas Abrams; The Book of Joy: Lasting happiness in a changing world; New York: Avery, 2016]

How I Pray

in the name of the strong Deliverer, our only Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.

One of my favorite quotes about hope is from Jim Wallis, founder and editor of Sojourners magazine, who defined it as …believing in spite of the evidence and then watching the evidence change. This prayer of Brooks’, while full of requests, is full of hope. How I pray may be more important than the words. If I pray with little expectation, that will be granted; with little hope, I probably won’t be disappointed in the results. If I pray, hopeful of its coming into the reality of my life, I won’t be disappointed, either. Let me pray it and watch the evidence change, believing what the strong Deliverer said several times in several ways in the Gospels – ask for it in my name and it will be given.

Offered by Bill Albritton, teacher, writer, speaker, and seeker.

Cup of Strength

and make me the cup of strength to suffering souls

Caring about and for others is exhausting. If we don’t have a way to replenish it, our well of strength and compassion can run dry. When this happens, we are unable to support our own life’s burden (much less help anyone else). Sadly and often, this truth is ignored until the fatigue has already set in.

The wonderful and terrible truth is that none of us can offer much from our own resources, so a reframing is in order. If we are wise, or just blessed with common sense, we’ll forget about being a well and ask God to make us a cup of strength – and trust that God will fill and refill us again and again when we run dry.


Joy and Gladness

Inspire me with the spirit of joy and gladness

It can come from anywhere, or it can be absent everywhere. It’s not a train that I can see in the distance coming down the track. It seems to show up or not; as far as I can tell, it’s beyond my control. The spirit of joy and gladness isn’t mine to command.

But I think that’s the point: joy and gladness aren’t possessions I can obtain with hard work and good taste. Joy and gladness are spiritual gifts – given, not taken.

I shouldn’t be surprised by this. Most of the truly meaningful things are the same: virtues in the true sense are goods of the spirit, not goods that can be kept in boxes on the shelves of my ego’s home. The best I can do is keep my eyes and heart open so that when they arrive on my doorstep I’ll open the door wide.

Some New Vision

Monotony. It’s waking up at the same time every day to do the same tasks in the same places in the company of the same people. Same old, same old; familiarity breeds contempt; blah, blah, blah. Even the Bible gives a nod to this truth – there is no new thing under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9b)

All of those things are true, but true in a very specific way. It isn’t the world that offers nothing new: it’s my perspective. If I look upon the world with jaundiced eye and paltry imagination, wonders and signs will be invisible. Phillips Brooks knew this. He didn’t ask God to produce new wonders: he asked God for corrective lenses for his myopia.

May I be as wise in my prayer requests.

O God: Give me strength to live another day; Let me not turn coward before its difficulties or prove recreant to its duties; Let me not lose faith in other people; Keep me sweet and sound of heart, in spite of ingratitude, treachery, or meanness; Preserve me from minding little stings or giving them; Help me keep my heart clean, and to live so honestly and fearlessly that no outward failure can dishearten me or take away the joy of conscious integrity; Open wide the eyes of my soul that I may see good in all things; Grant me this day some new vision of thy truth; Inspire me with the spirit of joy and gladness; and make me the cup of strength to suffering souls; in the name of the strong Deliverer, our only Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

For Today, found on the back inside cover of Forward Day by Day (Forward Movement, Cincinnati, OH;


Eyes Wide Open

Open wide the eyes of my soul that I may see good in all things

I keep a card that my friend Penny sent me in 1992. I doubt she thought much of it at the time – we exchanged cards and letters often; I’m sure she didn’t think that I’d still have that card almost 30 years later.

I keep that card as a bookmark. It reminds me of the joy and laughter Penny brought to our friendship, and it reminds me of the transient nature of all things (Penny died in 2001). Penny wasn’t without her flaws – no one is – but she made the world better for her being in it. She made my world better for being in it. If I looked only for the  small imperfections, I might have missed that great, good truth.

I keep that card for the saying on the front: What you see has more to do with the eyes through which you look that what you look upon.

I keep that card for the parting words inside as well: Love, Penny

I pray that the eyes of my soul are open enough for me to love the world I see, even when I have to look for good among the not-so-good. I pray that I hold to that good, so that when I leave this life, my last offering for everyone and everything is Love, Johnna

[For the complete prayer, click For Today: Phillips Brooks Prayer above.]

Clean Hearted

Help me to keep my heart clean, and to live so honestly and fearlessly that no outward failure can dishearten me or take away the joy of conscious integrity.

Being honest isn’t the same thing as living honestly; the first is a matter of telling the truth, the second is living the truth of who we are when who we are may not seem like such a grand truth. It takes courage to attempt, and stamina to sustain because judgement and rejection are coming our way. It’s tempting to hide behind a false self – at least then, the inevitable judgement and rejection may not be quite as devastating.

But if we want to live a joyful life, or any kind of life at all worthwhile, we have to fess up to who we truly are. When we do, we just might find that falling short and failing aren’t as devastating as we thought…

God, make a fresh start in me, shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life. Ps. 51:10 The Message

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Ps. 51:10, NRSV



It’s the little stings

Preserve me from minding little stings or giving them

One of the most destructive people I’ve ever known never raised her voice. A backhanded compliment offered here, a snide remark whispered there, a sarcastic line spoken with a smile: she made it her business to know everyone’s vulnerable spots and she spent her workdays poking small holes in them with verbal needles. The damage was barely noticeable at first, but it added up. A workplace cheerful in her absence became tense and sour in her presence. When she left for another job, everyone started to breathe easier.

While few people had her talent for destruction by little stings, I think most of us have returned them when we’ve been on the receiving end. But if we can overlook such little stings, if we can remember that minor insults are only harmful if we take them seriously, we can refrain from returning the verbal (dis) favor.

The thing about little stings: they come at a cost. To sting another effectively, we must put ourselves in the others’  shoes: how else would we know what will damage them? Every sting we give, we try out on ourselves first. Such damage adds up, even if we never receive a retaliating sting.

Lord, give me strength to avoid the whole damaging cycle altogether. Amen.

[For more on this series, and for the full prayer, click For Today: Phillips Brooks Prayer.]