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Joy in the Presence

Message for worship at West Richmond Friends Meeting, 19th of Twelfth Month, 2021

Speaker: Donne Hayden

Scripture: Psalm 16:11, NIV; Matthew 2:9-10; & Luke 1:28-29

Some of you may know the experience of being filled up, flooded with – something, accompanied by joy several degrees beyond happiness. Joy that springs from a deeper (or perhaps higher) source; joy that evokes tears and laughter at the same time; joy that renders you incoherent or completely speechless. And in the midst of this joy, a sense that you are in the presence of Something Greater. Call it the Presence of God or the Light or the Mystery or whatever speaks to you, because it doesn’t matter what words you use. The experience is beyond words.

Once, years ago, standing in Kroger’s parking lot here in Richmond, I was stopped cold by a sunset so beautiful I felt privileged to see it, as though a great gift of color and light had been given to me personally. Joy rose up in me; I was too small to contain it; I was brim-full, overflowing with an awareness of Divine Presence. I stood weeping for joy, oblivious to people passing by me going to their cars. (They probably thought the white-haired woman staring at the sky and sobbing was crazy.)

The Psalmist knew the experience hundreds of years ago when he wrote to God: “you will fill me with joy in your presence . . ." (Psalm 16:11, NIV) Edna St. Vincent Millay knew the experience in her poem, “God’s World”:

Lord, I do fear

Thou’st made the world too beautiful this year;

My soul is all but out of me…

Quaker William Leddra knew it the day he died, March 14, 1661, when he was hanged in Massachusetts for being a Quaker. That day he wrote:

The sweet influences of the Morning Star like a flood,

distilling into my habitation,

have so filled me with the joy of the Lord

in the beauty of holiness

that my spirit is as if

it did not inhabit a tabernacle of clay,

but is wholly swallowed up in the beauty of eternity

from whence it had its being....

As the flowing of the ocean

doth fill every creek and branch

and then retires again toward its own being and fullness,

leaving a savor behind, so doth the life and power of God

flow into our hearts,

making us partakers of the Divine nature.

Contemporary Friend, Barry Crossno, General Secretary of Friends General Conference, knows it, and describes it beautifully:

Sometimes I reflect on the moment

that I first felt God deeply in my heart.

I was so overwhelmed with joy and gratitude.

Honestly, I cried. No, I didn’t cry, I sobbed.

Sometimes, when I pray or meditate

and the presence sweeps over me,

tears run down my face.

I can’t help it. I’m just so grateful to feel the presence.

The world is suddenly Technicolor.

I can feel the air vibrating with all the possibilities of the creation.

It’s a miracle to live in those brief flashes when it happens.1