"Several winters ago my wife and I and our then twenty-year-old daughter, went to that great tourist extravaganza near Orlando, Florida, called Sea World. It was a gorgeous day when we were there, with bright Florida sunlight reflected in the shimmering water and a cloudless blue sky over our heads. The bleachers where we sat were packed.
The way the show began was that at a given signal they released into the tank five or six killer whales, as we call them (it would be interesting to see what they call us), and no creatures under heaven could have looked less killer-like as they went racing around and around in circles. What with the dazzle of sky and sun, the beautiful young people on the platform, the soft Southern air, and the crowds all around us watching the performance with a delight matched only by what seemed the delight of the performing whales, it was as if the whole creation - men and women and beasts and sun and water and earth and sky and, for all I know, God himself - was caught up in one great, jubilant dance of unimaginable beauty. And then, right in the midst of it, I was astonished to find that my eyes were filled with tears.
When the show was over and I turned to my wife and daughter beside me to tell them what had happened, their answer was to say that there had been tears also in their eyes. There is no mystery about why we shed tears. We shed tears because we had caught a glimpse of the Peaceable Kingdom, and it had almost broken our hearts. For a few moments we had seen Eden and been part of the great dance that goes on at the heart of creation. We shed tears because we were given a glimpse of the way life was created to be and is not. We had seen why it was that "the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy" when the world was first made, as the book of Job describes it. We had a glimpse of part of what Jesus meant when he said "Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh".
The world is full of darkness, but what I think we caught sight of in that tourist trap in Orlando, Florida, of all places, was that at the heart of darkness - whoever would have believed it? - there is joy unimaginable. The world does bad things to us all, and we do bad things to the world and to each other and maybe most of all to ourselves, but in that dazzle of bright water as the glittering whales hurled themselves into the sun, I believe what we saw was that joy is what we belong to. Joy is home, and I believe the tears that came to our eyes were more than anything else homesick tears. God created us in joy and created us for joy, and in the long run not all the darkness there is in the world and in ourselves can separate us finally from that joy, because whatever else it means to say that God created us in His image, I think it means that even when we cannot believe in Him, even when we feel most spiritually bankrupt and deserted by Him, His mark is deep within us. We have God's joy in our blood.
I believe that joy is what our tears were all about and what our faith is all about too. Not happiness. Happiness comes when things are going our way, which makes it only a forerunner to the unhappiness that inevitably follows when things stop going our way, as in the end they will stop for all of us. Joy, on the other hand, does not come because something is happening or not happening, but every once in a while rises up out of simply being alive, of being part of the terror as well as the fathomless richness of the world God has made. My prayer is that we will all of us find him somewhere somehow, and that He will give us something of His life to fill our emptiness, something of His light to drive back our dark."
I was going through some photos today and stumbled across this one of my daughter, Ella, that actually made me catch my breath in light of the recent shootings in Connecticut...
This is MY glimpse of the Peaceable Kingdom. This is what I wish the world could be like every minute of every day... joy in our hearts, mouths open in wonder, the wind at our backs, the sense of freedom and exhilaration that comes from soaring heavenward. It makes me homesick. It makes me realize that God created us to fly barefoot on a swing bound by nothing but joy. And there will be a day, friends... there will be a day of no more tears. But for now, we cling white knuckled to the truth that God created us in joy and created us for joy, and in the long run not all the darkness there is in the world and in ourselves can separate us finally from that joy.
Not all the darkness in the world...