Are you finding it hard to smile these days? So much heaviness weighs down on the world. In the face of all that is wrong around us, we strive to be responsible citizens, kind people and faithful followers of Jesus. But sometimes it’s hard to find much good news.
Recently, I’ve been on the lookout for things that make me smile, not to run away from the heavy realities but to help keep things in perspective. Here’s a humble list of some things that have helped feed my soul.
Old photos. A group of suited men gets ready to pose for an official photo in front of a Mennonite church building. Facing them, with her back to the camera, a small girl nonchalantly swings a hula hoop on her hips. I smile at this photo, a recent addition to CM’s historical photo series, “A moment from yesterday.”
Occasionally one of the old photos catches readers’ attention and they respond by adding their own memories and even some corrections. For example, a while back members of a 1970s baptismal class identified the people in an old photo and reminisced about that significant event. It’s fun to see how memories connect people and offer insight into faraway places and events.
Vision and connection. Back in March CM published an article about a group in Leamington, Ont., that was raising funds for an International Witness project in the Philippines. Recently, Mennonite Church Eastern Canada reported that the project has expanded, with one person attributing the increased funds to the original report that had appeared in Canadian Mennonite.
I’m inspired by the vision of Mennonite workers and their supporters, and I’m glad when this magazine can help their ministry grow.
Songs and their stories. Maybe, like me, you appreciate knowing the stories behind the songs we sing in worship. As part of the launch of the Voices Together hymnal, MennoMedia is producing videos featuring composers, text writers and arrangers talking about how particular songs came to be. Two recent segments, featuring totally different music styles, were “Come What May / Pase lo que pase ¡ven!” and “I Am That Great and Fiery Force.”
I am awed by the creativity and dedication of those who tie images, words and melodies together, offering yet more ways for the church to praise and worship.
Worship services. Last year, as the pandemic threatened to overwhelm congregational life, Mennonite Church Canada spearheaded the sharing of recorded and livestreamed worship services. These were prepared by individual congregations for viewing across the nationwide church family. Back then, I “visited” many of those services and I’m doing it again this summer, as a new “crop” of services is emerging.
Last Sunday my husband and I “attended” the service of St. Jacobs (Ont.) Mennonite Church, organized around the theme of water. I was moved, in particular, by the “Come to the Water” readers theatre, a collection of scripture portions prepared by Zac Klassen and presented by the Cain family. You can see the entire service here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=-MacO1dRNUc
Songs of the global church. As Mennonite Church Canada is encouraging members to live into a more intercultural reality, music can play a part. Last week I listened again to recorded songs from the Mennonite World Conference (MWC) assembly that was held in Harrisburg, Pa., in 2015. MWC’s “International Songbook” features songs performed by the multinational ensemble that led the music at that large gathering.
Imagine several thousand people worshipping God together by singing in each other’s languages—a foretaste of Heaven! You can watch and sing along at MWC’s YouTube channel.
Social media sharing. Can good news be found in our Facebook and Instagram feeds? Recently I’ve been able to smile as I scroll, while witnessing schools that find innovative ways to celebrate their graduates and camps that launch new programs to connect people to nature and to God. These days, many of my friends are posting photos of bandaged arms and vaccination stickers, celebrating their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Their online community is rejoicing with them.
At times when this virtual community is working well, we smile together and encourage each other to live out our faith in the larger, real-life community.
Encouragement. “You are braver than you believe, smarter than you seem, and stronger than you think.” Internet crowdsourcing attributes this quotation to the fictional Christopher Robin, encouraging his bear Winnie the Pooh. I haven’t been able to confirm the source of this quotation, but the sentiment makes me smile.
Suppose that we really are more resilient and resourceful than we feel on our worst days. Suppose that God is speaking encouraging words to each of us, with a loving gaze and a gentle embrace. I gain strength—and smile—as I claim the biblical promise that “nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:29, New Living Translation).
Now it’s your turn: What causes you to smile today? What is helping you gain strength for the journey? Feel free to share one item from your list in the comments below.