Called to Joy

Scripture: Mark 1: 16-20

What is your calling? Many of us might respond to this question with what we are dong vocationally, or what we dream of doing as a job someday.  We often associate “calling” with our life’s work.

Jesus uses it a different way in our story today.  In verse 20 Jesus calls brothers James and John to him. The Greek word attributed to Jesus is kalew.  It means to call or summon in the literal sense, as in, “Son, come here. You’ve got to get your homework done”—that kind of call.  Kalew also retains a deeper meaning though, in Greek.  It can mean the giving of an attribution to someone, also translated to mean “giving a name.”  What Jesus did to those fishermen by calling them to follow him was to give them a new name—disciple.  This calling, this naming, changed the trajectory of the rest of their lives.  Peter, Andrew, James, and John stepped into a new life story when they decided to follow Jesus.  Jesus named them, and they couldn’t resist the loving power behind such an adoption.  Fishing nets drop from their fingers.  They step out of the boat, mud gushes between their toes, and they turn to follow the one who named them.

How then, do we follow Christ?  How do we follow in the footsteps of the disciples—who had as much or more than we have to lose by dropping their nets–and live into the name of “disciple?” Our own nets of obligations, commitments, and just plain stuff entangle us; we drag our feet in following because we think we might need some of that old baggage on our new journey with Jesus.[1]  How do we live into his call, his naming of us?

The founder of Methodism and one of my own spiritual fathers, John Wesley, teaches that the call to follow Jesus can happen in a moment on a lakeshore, but more likely is to be the work of a lifetime.  A distinctive mark of the Wesleyan heritage is the understanding of life as a spiritual pilgrimage deep into the heart of God.[2]  For Wesley, the life of faith consisted both of significant “lakeshore moments” in which we offer our lives to Christ—moments of justification—AND daily ongoing times of commitment—moments of sanctification.  Wesley understood his following of Christ best as a journey of a lifetime that he committed to walk daily.  Wesley wrote in one of his letters on the kalew, the calling of Christ on our lives.  He stated “the hope of our calling [is] to know that our hope is sincerity, not perfection; not to do well, but to do our best.”[3  As Wesley understood calling, the attempt to “drop the nets” and live into the name of “disciple” is  both lifelong, and a daily commitment to do our best—such a following of the call ultimately brings great gladness.

The well-known pastor and episcopal priest, Barbara Brown Tayor, writes of a time in her life when she was struggling mightily with how Christ might be calling her.  She simply didn’t know what she was to do and be.  So one midnight, in great frustration and exasperation she fell to her knees in prayer and said, “Okay, God.  You need to level with me.  What do you want me to be?  What do you want me to do?  What are you calling me to do.”  She says that she felt a powerful sense of God saying “Do what pleases you.  Belong to me, but do what pleases you.”  She says it struck her as very strange that God’s call could actually touch a place of greatest joy within her, that she could be called to do the thing that pleases her the most.  Following God’s call means doing that which brings us the greatest gladness.  Joy is the biggest measure of how we discern our calling, of how we are to use our gifts.[4]  As Wesley understood it, our calling is the journey of our lifetime, made up of daily commitments to do our best with joy.

Another Christian writer, Frederick Buechner says, “Our calling is where our deepest gladness and the world’s hunger meet.”  Think about that.  “Our calling is where our deepest gladness and the world’s hunger meet.”  Jesus’s call to you on the lakeshore is ultimately about bringing you into joy as you serve this church, this community, this world.  Perhaps deep gladness is what made Peter, Andrew, James, and John drop their nets.  Perhaps deep gladness is what could make you drop nets, too.  Pull your feet out of that mud.  Step into Jesus naming you as a disciple.  Christ is calling you into joy.

[1] Cynthia D. Weems, “Reflections on the Lectionary”  Christian Century January 11, 2011, 21.

[2] Richard Heizenrater, Wesley and the People Called Methodists (Nashville:  Abingdon Press, 1995), 321.

[3] John Wesley, Letters, 25: 318.

[4] Rev. Dr. Thomas Long, “ Where You Never Expected to Be”  30 aired on Oct. 22, 2006.  Accessed on January 17, 2012.


Backbends bring a sense of joy.  Ustrasana, or camel pose, is a backbend with varying degrees of challenge, so even newcomers to yoga can explore some form of it. The description below is from, accessed January 14, 2018.


Step 1

Kneel on the floor with your knees hip width and thighs perpendicular to the floor. Rotate your thighs inward slightly, narrow your hip points, and firm but don’t harden your buttocks. Imagine that you’re drawing your sitting bones up, into your torso. Keep your outer hips as soft as possible. Press your shins and the tops of your feet firmly into floor.

Step 2

Rest your hands on the back of your pelvis, bases of the palms on the tops of the buttocks, fingers pointing down. Use your hands to spread the back pelvis and lengthen it down through your tail bone. Then lightly firm the tail forward, toward the pubis. Make sure though that your front groins don’t “puff” forward. To prevent this, press your front thighs back, countering the forward action of your tail. Inhale and lift your heart by pressing the shoulder blades against your back ribs.

Step 3

Now lean back against the firmness of the tail bone and shoulder blades. For the time being keep your head up, chin near the sternum, and your hands on the pelvis. Beginners probably won’t be able to drop straight back into this pose, touching the hands to the feet simultaneously while keeping the thighs perpendicular to the floor. If you need to, tilt the thighs back a little from the perpendicular and minimally twist to one side to get one hand on the same-side foot. Then press your thighs back to perpendicular, turn your torso back to neutral, and touch the second hand to its foot. If you’re not able to touch your feet without compressing your lower back, turn your toes under and elevate your heels.

See that your lower front ribs aren’t protruding sharply toward the ceiling, which hardens the belly and compresses the lower back. Release the front ribs and lift the front of the pelvis up, toward the ribs. Then lift the lower back ribs away from the pelvis to keep the lower spine as long as possible. Press your palms firmly against your soles (or heels), with the bases of the palms on the heels and the fingers pointing toward the toes. Turn your arms outwardly so the elbow creases face forward, without squeezing the shoulder blades together. You can keep your neck in a relatively neutral position, neither flexed nor extended, or drop your head back. But be careful not to strain your neck and harden your throat.

Step 5

Stay in this pose anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute. To exit, bring your hands onto the front of your pelvis, at the hip points. Inhale and lift the head and torso up by pushing the hip points down, toward the floor. If your head is back, lead with your heart to come up, not by jutting the chin toward the ceiling and leading with your brain. Rest in Child’s Pose for a few breaths.




Let There Be Light

Scripture: Luke 2:8, 11, Matthew 2:2, 9, John 1: 4-5

“Let there be light.”  This phrase comprises the theme for my church’s worship services for Christmas Eve.  So, in preparing sermons for this most festive night in which Christians celebrate the incarnation, I decided to look at light in the Christmas stories.

In the gospel of Luke, shepherds keep watch over their flocks by night.  Then the angel of the Lord stands before them, and the glory of the Lord shines all around them.  They are then terrified.  The angel is then joined by a heavenly host  that praise God and say “Glory to God in the highest!”

The light in the Lukan story is not a star–it comes from the glory of the Lord.  This glory was brilliant, majestic, awesome–enough to frighten poor shepherds on a dark and cold night. Glory in the original Greek language is doxa, and means “praise” or “worship.” Glory belongs only to God or to Christ.  Glory holds a brightness of solar light.  It can be startling or intimidating at times, as it was for the shepherds.  The majesty of God can inspire fear and awe.  A great definition I discovered was that glory denotes an outward expression of an absolute, inward perfect love.  Glory at Christmas is God’s inner light shining bright with love, shown in the beautiful babe lying in a manger.  No wonder the shepherds felt they had to go immediately and see this baby.  They had been illuminated by God’s glory.  As scary as that was, they now had experienced an amazing love and wanted to go see the source. In Luke, “let there be light”  means let there be love.

In the gospel of Matthew, the light comes from a star. The wise men say, “we have seen his star at its rising and have come to pay him homage.”  They then followed the star they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was.   When they saw the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.

The light in Matthew is that of a star.  This celestial light was bright enough to launch a journey, and then to illuminate the way.  The star showed the wise men the right path, and they followed it until they arrived at joy. The light of the star gave them courage to confront the governmental power of King Herod. The light of the star gave them hope to keep going on an arduous journey of unknown length.  Most of all though, the light of the star brought to them joy.  In Matthew, “let there be light” means let there be joy.

In the gospel of John, the story of the incarnation sounds completely differently than the shepherds of Luke or the wise men of Matthew.  John says, “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”  The light in John is actually Jesus.  Jesus as incarnate God is life and is light.  This divine radiance is of such a quality that no darkness can overcome it.

I read a reflection from a father whose 18-year old son died three years ago in a car crash at Christmas.  He said that the verse from John “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it” sustains him through his grief.  He offered that there is no darkness so dark, even the darkness of a son’s death, that Christ’s light can’t in some way find its way through.  This light in the gospel of John is one of mystery.  It is the light that comes through the cracks and crevices of our lives.  It is the light at the end of the tunnel.  It is the light that lets us know we are not alone.  In John, “Let there be light” means let there be comfort.

On this Christmas Eve, what kind of light from Christ do you need?  Do you need to be illumined with love?  Awed with majesty? Then shine bright with the glory of Luke’s gospel.  Do you need a softer, but strong light that shows you the way and leads you down a good path?  Do  you need a light of courage that helps you confront power?   Then shine steadily with the joy of Matthew’s gospel.  Do you need a little light to push back on the darkness? Do you need to know you are not alone?  Then shine graciously with the comforting light of John’s gospel.

Whatever light you need, receive the light Christ offers of love, joy, and comfort this Christmas.  Then, shine on. Shine on.


This practice will again be restorative.  (The picture included on this post is shoulder stand, which is a more active version of legs up.  We will do this with hips down and legs at the wall)  We will start by envisioning the word light, and bringing it to our eyes.  In a meditation, we’ll then send the light to any area of our body that needs love, joy, or comfort.   I’ll also intersperse the practice with Christmas carols that reference light.

One of my favorite restorative poses is viparita karani.  We’ll do this Legs at the Wall pose while the sound of Silent Night plays. Pose instructions are taken from yoga

Legs-Up-The-Wall Pose: Step-by-Step Instructions

The pose described here is a passive, supported variation of the Shoulderstand-like Viparita Karani. For your support you’ll need one or two thickly folded blankets or a firm round bolster. You’ll also need to rest your legs vertically (or nearly so) on a wall or other upright support.

Step 1

Before performing the pose, determine two things about your support: its height and its distance from the wall. If you’re stiffer, the support should be lower and placed farther from the wall; if you’re more flexible, use a higher support that is closer to the wall. Your distance from the wall also depends on your height: if you’re shorter move closer to the wall, if taller move farther from the wall. Experiment with the position of your support until you find the placement that works for you.

Step 2

Start with your support about 5 to 6 inches away from the wall. Sit sideways on right end of the support, with your right side against the wall (left-handers can substitute “left” for “right” in these instructions). Exhale and, with one smooth movement, swing your legs up onto the wall and your shoulders and head lightly down onto the floor. The first few times you do this, you may ignominiously slide off the support and plop down with your buttocks on the floor. Don’t get discouraged. Try lowering the support and/or moving it slightly further off the wall until you gain some facility with this movement, then move back closer to the wall.

Step 3

Your sitting bones don’t need to be right against the wall, but they should be “dripping” down into the space between the support and the wall. Check that the front of your torso gently arches from the pubis to the top of the shoulders. If the front of your torso seems flat, then you’ve probably slipped a bit off the support. Bend your knees, press your feet into the wall and lift your pelvis off the support a few inches, tuck the support a little higher up under your pelvis, then lower your pelvis onto the support again.

Step 4

Lift and release the base of your skull away from the back of your neck and soften your throat. Don’t push your chin against your sternum; instead let your sternum lift toward the chin. Take a small roll (made from a towel for example) under your neck if the cervical spine feels flat. Open your shoulder blades away from the spine and release your hands and arms out to your sides, palms up.

Step 5

Keep your legs relatively firm, just enough to hold them vertically in place. Release the heads of the thigh bones and the weight of your belly deeply into your torso, toward the back of the pelvis. Soften your eyes and turn them down to look into your heart.

Step 6

Stay in this pose anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes. Be sure not to twist off the support when coming out. Instead, slide off the support onto the floor before turning to the side. You can also bend your knees and push your feet against the wall to lift your pelvis off the support. Then slide the support to one side, lower your pelvis to the floor, and turn to the side. Stay on your side for a few breaths, and come up to sitting with an exhalation.