Reverence — A joy bearer?

As I become more and more a member of that vast land called middle age, I question what bits and pieces of my past may in some way contribute to a sense of wellbeing. I think wellbeing could legitimately be another name for joy.

When some hear the word reverence, they immediately think churchy thoughts. I don’t. But I know that the expression or demonstration of reverence has often brought me a certain sense of wellbeing or contentment.

Paul Woodruff, a professor at one of our local universities said in his book Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue, “The great trees have been alive on these hills for centuries. They rise on strong bases to great heights, they are homes to many creatures, they bear clouds of greenery above and provide dense shade below. Like everything that calls for reverence, the trees are in an important sense beyond our understanding.”

Reverence is a certain level of awe, a respect for and humility around something that seems precious, even fragile. Reverence differs from joy in that way, I think – because joy is what we fold inside ourselves and protect for our own pleasure, comfort and even survival. I would suggest to you that showing reverence – whether now or in the past – helps you to shape that which is joyous in your world.

A few years ago, I worked in a company where two of my colleagues were from the Deep South. Since my grandmother grew up in Louisiana, I know something of the ways and customs of the area. Kevin was from North Carolina, whereas Faye was from Georgia. One day, Kevin’s wife brought their two very young children up to the office to see their daddy. Both of the children were under six. Kevin took them by the hand and introduced then to Faye. “Marybeth, Matthew, this is Miss Faye,” and then he turned them to me, “And, this is Miss Michele.” It’s a very old-fashioned title, and yet a very comforting one. For me, it brought up ideas about orderliness and about doing things “right.” Calling a woman – married or not – by the title of “Miss (Caroline, Mary Jo, Elaine, etc.),” holds a certain level of reverence – both for the speaker and the one spoken to. It brought me such a sense of weight – a sense that in the world, I can give a child a pillar to lean against, a hand to help and experience to teach. More importantly, I can be a part of the village that invests in the growing of that mind and heart. And, as someone who has often longed for children, but had none, this moment of participation is a great gift, a great joy to my being.

Joy can be the underground spring that bubbles up in many places. It may be an aroma, or a sensation. But, for me, much of joy is tied to reveling in the old and the overlooked. In the same way, much of reverence sets the stage for a banquet of joy. Reverence for the grandeur of trees, the balletic action of sandlot baseball, or for the raising or lowering of the flag creates the opportunity for joy. That which we reverence opens a portal to joy: a way to see that we have an endless supply of material from which to gather joy and to hold it safe and protected.

In all things, I wish you peace.


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