The oil of joy

I’m still not really sure I have any idea how to be ‘a Christian’. I go to church, but not every week. And mainly to sing. I’ve never been confirmed, so I don’t take communion. I’m not really sure how to pray, or what to pray for, or if what I’m trying to pray for is ok. I have no idea how people know that God is speaking to them; how they determine that a message they receive is from Him, and not just the voice in their head. I think the real crux of the matter is I simply do not feel worthy to be loved by God. I am just me: insignificant and destined to fail.

But then, occasionally, something will move me.

I was in church recently, rehearsing with the choir. We were singing Elgar’s The Spirit of the Lord is Upon Me. Now, I’ve sung this before, probably multiple times. So I know the tune, and the rhythms, and generally how it goes. But as we were standing there and singing, I suddenly noticed the text. I must have seen it before, and sung it before. But I felt like it was the first time I was seeing it.

“to give unto them that mourn a garland for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness”

I felt like this had been written specifically for me in this moment.

“The oil of joy for mourning”. It jumped off the page and hit me in the face. Oh, what I would give to have some of this oil, to sprinkle my mourning with joy.

It was the first time, after many years of singing with a church choir, that I googled the text of a song to find where in the bible it had come from. I know now that the text comes from Isaiah, 61 v.1-3, 11. I’ve read it, and re-read it over and over. I’ve even read different translations. For me, this is a victory. It is only a snippet of the Bible, but I loved being drawn to it.

The NIV translation reads: “the oil of joy instead of mourning”. I was almost disappointed to read it. The difference, so subtle, changes “for” to “instead of”. I can see that in some contexts they would be synonymous. But it didn’t mean quite the same thing to me today. I do not want joy to replace my mourning. I want joy to be an inherent part of everything I am, including my mourning.

Of course, I am no expert in Bible translations. I do not know what the intended meaning of the verse is. Maybe I am supposed to replace my mourning with joy. But I don’t feel quite ready for that yet. So today I shall sing Elgar, thinking of the Bible and the text that inspired him to write such beautiful music.

It was as if a light was turned on. With God, even my mourning can be joy-filled.

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