A Flicker of Light
BY SUSAN HAARMAN | December 13, 2021
As a licensed and practicing therapist, I can often stumble into viewing things through a therapeutic lens and the results can be very funny. That happened recently as I was preparing this mediation. Upon reading the letter to the Philippians telling us to “Have no anxiety at all,” I audibly murmured, “Well that’s not helpful.” My partner was on the other side of the couch and asked me what I was talking about and I replied, “St. Paul’s just giving crappy mental health advice.”
For anyone who’s experienced anxiety, the admonition to just “not worry” or “stop being anxious” is usually ineffective and often feels like a dismissal. Anxiety spirals are overwhelming and attempts to reason our way out of them are typically ineffective in the face of powerful physical and emotional responses. In the wake of COVID, anxiety became an intimately familiar feeling as a result of the pandemic and its ongoing effects. I never thought that having a panic attack just going to a crowded grocery store would become a common shared experience, but here we are. And while the holidays are festive for many of us, for others this is a time of struggle and painful reminders of loss and broken relationships.
So in the midst of our shared struggles, I encourage us not to focus on denying anxiety, pain, or fear, but rather to heed the main and most powerful message of today’s reading—joy. The first reading and the psalmist exort us to rejoice, reminding us of the promises God has made, the care God has shown, and most importantly, the way God takes joy in us. Joy is the proclamation of knowing and feeling that we are loved by God. It can exist in times of pain AND happiness. Pope Francis reminds us that “Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved.” Joy is not predicated on perfection, serenity, or having it all together. It begins and ends in the reality of a loving and faithful God who cares for us.
Susan Haarman is the associate director at Loyola University Chicago’s Center for Experiential Learning, facilitating faculty development and the service-learning program. She has degrees from Marquette University, Loyola University of Chicago, and the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, and previously served as the faith and justice campus minister, also at Loyola University Chicago. In addition to having a Masters in Divinity, she also holds a Masters in Community Counseling, a certificate in directing the 19th Annotation of the Spiritual Exercises, and is currently in a doctoral program. Her research focuses on the intersection between social justice education, civic identity, and imagination. She is also an improviser storyteller in Chicago.
Well-said! Thank you for reading Paul with a therapeutic lens, and for emphasizing joy in the midst of anxiety as well as in the midst of serenity.
My daughter has pointed out to me several times that her anxiety, that is real and sometimes frequent, is exacerbated by my pointing it out. She says I make it worse by trying to help her anxiety. As a nurse I live in the reality of the illness and often feel that recognizing it is the first step to healing. I am learning that some things are not fixable. Living in love through suffering, just with presence. Sometimes, no words, just being.
One of the biggest and powerful aspects of Joy is knowing that the prayers I say for another are answeered. When a person asks me to pray for them, I take it seriously and sometimes pray for years. I don’t want to give up on that sense of joy that comes from knowing God answered their prayer(even ifit is in a way that was not the answer expected). As the writer points out that doesn’t mean I don’t know about anxiety. It bites my soul with its intensity at times but I would say the joy that comes from a prayer being answered is even more intense. When a person asks me to pray for them I always say yes but ask them to let me know how their prayer has been answered. What happens is that the prayer is answered and both of us have the joy of being in tune with God’s graces and the joy that comes with it.
I agree that emotions need to be befriended and Not denied; that is what The historical Jesus did. Experiencing joy all the time is quite difficult it is only possible after a lot of inner work.
Thank you. I found this message the most true and applicable to the signs of the time of all the Advent messages so far. Blessings upon your work.
Hello Susan and al respondents thus far,
I read/listened with great peace and comfort in my heart/soul the 14 minute homily of Bishop Robert Barron from the 3rd week of Advent for this year. It is well worth searching out. ” Word on Fire” and Youtube both should have it and probably many other sites. Turmoil, tragedy, and no anxiety can exist at the same time for the same person. That is why St. Paul rightly says “Have no anxiety at all.” I strongly recommend you follow up on this. I think it will give depth to the subject that is so needed to be shared with others. Thanks.
Thanks Susan for the powerful quote on joy from Pope Francis. Indeed, we are infinitely loved.