As December 25th approaches, I feel guided to reflect on four words that have become ubiquitous additions to craft store aisles for fancy framed pictures. “Faith,” “Hope,” “Love” and “Joy” could fill a room with other people’s definitions and reasons why they are meaningful words to so many of us. They deserve our attention because they are words that make a difference. I hate to think what my life would be like if I didn’t have the space in my heart for what these four words instill in me.
The order itself is significant: Faith, Hope, Love and Joy. Because I have faith, I have hope. Because I have hope, I can love. Because I can love, my life is open to joy. It is faith that leads to love and it is love that leads to joy.
What is it that I have faith in? I have faith that I am not separate and alone. I have faith that I am connected to something greater than my singular self made of flesh and bone. You can call it faith in God (I do) or the Universe. Whatever labels are attributed to that great Creative Force that vibrates in and through all that is, it is a comfort to have a deep and abiding faith in it. No matter what is going on externally in my life, I ever feel lost or without a spiritual cushion that gives me the strength to return to a peaceful countenance. That feeling of connection to the great heartbeat of life itself is a powerful whisper that lets me know I am taken care of and that everything will be alright.
Faith comes first. With that firmly rooted in the core of my being, I have hope. I hope that my life will unfold to ever more beautiful vistas. I cannot know for sure, but I can hold on to a hope so tangible, it feels true already. Hope is that quiet trust and confidence that no matter where we are today, things can change. We can change. I can become more of the person I would like to be and so can we as a global community. Without the hope of a more peaceful world, how could we take the necessary steps to make that world a reality? Hope flows through me like a great river and it makes me so very happy and so very much at peace. It allows me to accept what is right now with grace. As grace moves through me, it continually broadens my horizons and expands me. This is the great gift of hope.
Out of hope, comes the ability to love deeply and without conditions. Faith is the root of this tree. Hope is its branches and love is the green leaves sprouting everywhere. This love recognizes itself in another’s eyes. It says, “In you, I see a piece of me.” Love sees past our differences and penetrates that which connects us all – our desire to be the most we can be in a lifetime, however it is we define it. Love is the natural response to faith and hope. It is the outward manifestation of that which is planted deep in the soil of spirit. We cannot “see” the creative force that gives rise to life, but we can certainly have faith that it is always present. Nor can we grab hold of the certainty that our lives are unfolding with perfection, but we can hope that this is so. What we can do is love each other, offering daily acts of kindness that can be held and felt.
When we love without conditions, we open our lives to beauty and truly joyful experiences. Without exception, we gaze upon a joyful life with admiration, appreciation and awe. Joy is the blossom of this tree. It is the vibrant color and sweet scent of the blossom that makes this tree so pleasurable to sit under. Opening ourselves up to love and the joy that loving others creates gives rise to the miraculous. Like birds flying from one tree to another and spreading the seeds of an orchard, good things are spread when joy is present. The blossom allows for the whole process to begin again, for new trees to be planted in the soil of the soul. It is a circle.
The image of the circle is a fitting one for this time of year. We have the advent wreath marking the passing of the weeks toward the return of the light (or the birth of Christ if you are a Christian). We sit around a table in fellowship during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday. We contemplate the end of one year and the beginning of another. We celebrate birth and the possibility for new life with the anticipation of spring. Faith, Hope, Love and Joy are their own kind of circle, but build upon each other also. Connections are always there when you look for them. A life is a circle too. Yet, we don’t die as we were born. We have built a life with its humble beginnings in the faith that somehow, from somewhere, food would come and we would live. I am a testament to the miracle of faith, hope, love and joy. May you be such a tree, abundant with the blossoms of joy so that all may share in your gifts.