Remember in the olden days, before the dictionary you most likely used was online, and you had this big fat, physically-bound collection of a endless words to discover and learn about every time you cracked it open?
In moments of boredom and/or great, random curiosity in my younger years, I used to love opening up my hefty Merriam-Webster compendium, just to see what weird new word I might come across on any random page. “Sike"? “Barmy”? “Patulous"? It was fun imagining how such terms would fare in a round of Fictionary - my favorite parlor game of all time.
This is the kind of fun we’re invited to have, I think, with St. Paul and his command in his letter to the Philippians that we’re to “Rejoice in the Lord always, but again I say, Rejoice!” (4:4) The invitation is offered in his first correspondence to the Thessalonians, too: “Pray without ceasing and give thanks in all circumstances.” (5:17-18)
What Paul is suggesting here is that in everything we do, there is joy and gratitude to be sought, and found. No matter what. An experience of God that will lift our spirits and make us glad. (To clarify, Paul doesn’t say we are to rejoice and be grateful for all circumstances, but for what is to be discovered in them.) None of your circumstances, or activities, need be excluded. Is excluded. It all carries great, fabulous potential!
So it’s fun letting our imagination explore how this could be true in any and all random actions and experiences one might have. To make the exploration especially wild, I suggest pulling out your Merriam-Webster volume and safari-ing.
Of course, if you’re oh-so 21st Century like me and gave away your dictionary (or put it in storage while you live for a time in Iowa because your lexical needs can so conveniently be met online), to play this game you need to head to your public library and check one out. Which I did!
Which I did!
And, not unlike I used to love to do when bored or greatly curious, I closed my eyes....and opened up my M-W....
Watch the magic in the exciting video below as I randomly open to this page!
It happens to be the first page of “M” words. Looking for verbs (because they suggest activity) on this randomly selected page, these are the ones I found:
macadamize - “to construct or finish (a road) by compacting into a solid mass a layer of small broken stone on a convex, well-drained roadbed and using a binder (as cement or asphalt) for a mass."
mace - "to attack with liquid Mace"
macerate - "to soften and wear away esp. from being wetted or steeped"
machinate - "to plan or plot, especially to do harm"
Not surprisingly, there aren’t any obvious, well-known verbs here, and especially nothing that would suggest rich potential for rejoicing and giving thanks to God.
And that’s what makes it fun! Inspiring even!
Imagine Paul saying, “Rejoice in the Lord while you macadamize! Again I say, Rejoice!” What comes to mind for me is a sweaty road construction worker sitting in his (her?!) driver cabin atop a giant asphalt roller experiencing a rush of joy just for being alive. Unable to contain himself/herself he/she exclaims “Alleluia!”... just because!
(I don’t know about you, but I have those overwhelming rushes of joy sometimes when I’m driving down the road or doing other things…driving down the road seems to be an especially potent time for such onrushes, tho. At least for me.)
This image and memory makes me glad…reminds me of this potential no matter what constructive activity I might be engaged in. Such an onrush might come over me…even now as I type this. Woo hoo! Alleluia, too!
What about applying the rejoice command to “macing”? Where in the world could joy found in that?
While I’ve been very lucky so far to never had to engage in this task, I can imagine an experience of great gratitude and maybe even awe - realized after the fact - that when being confronted with the horror of an assault I happened to have what was needed to protect myself as well as the presence of mind to use it. Perhaps there would much gratitude and rejoicing engendered by my ability to mace. Among any number of other traumatic reactions and emotions.
And how about rejoicing while "macerating"? My imagination suggests an invitation to hold onto my anchor as everything else slips away. And then I rejoice and am grateful for the moment I realize it’s now time to let go and fully let God. As scary as that letting go is, in my experience thus far, it always leads to something surprisingly wonderful. So there’s lot to be said about “sacred macerating”, too!
And "machinating"? That sounds like fear-filled sinful activity. Where’s God to be found in this??
I suspect if one were truly committed to rejoicing in the Lord always, one would find God providing conscience as one machinated. Really, do I need to plot harm (or even fantasize plotting it) upon someone someone else - even if they are a deserved enemy? Is that what Jesus would doWhy am I plotting harm? What is the fear? How can the presence of Christ in my heart soften my resolve and steer me into other activity?
I’m guessing in my work with God in transforming a hate moment into a love moment would make me very joyful and grateful for the constant presence of the Divine in my life, and my ability to be aware of it — if I choose to be aware.
Thinking about just these four random, crazy possibilities to be joyful in and grateful for God - and discovering how indeed they can be -- are -- puts me in a great, hopeful mood. Something that otherwise seems to be very hard to come by these days….
Maybe this fun little game will help you, too. All you need is a little God-given imagination, and a dictionary. Er, library card….