These things I have spoken to you, that my joy be in you and that your joy may be full. My commandment is that you love one another just as I love you. (John 15:11)
I have always been interested in the names of groups we give to gatherings of certain species of animals, like a “herd” of elk, or a “gaggle” of geese. Do you know what we call a group of toads? A “knot.” Or what we call a group of skylarks—we call them an “exaltation!”
Which would you rather be: a knot of toads or an exaltation of skylarks
A lot of experience in life can make us feel like a knot of toads—like that last eight weeks in this pandemic. Toads have a bad reputation for causing warts (even though they don’t). They do secrete an acrid fluid that is irritating to the skin and lips of would be aggressor, but generally they are harmless. When we feel unappreciated, put down, alone, quarantined or just depressed, we may feel ugly or “warty.” When we give into bitterness, resentment, or self-righteousness, we become like toads—unpleasant to be around. St. Paul wrote in Ephesians: “Let all bitterness, wrath and anger, clamor and slander be put away from you.” The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews warns us against “the root of all bitterness” which can spring up and poison our lives.
How can we avoid such an existence—being a knot of toads? How can we avoid bitterness in our families, our jobs, our friendships, our feelings toward God, and even, toward ourselves? Rather than croaking and hopping in same swamp of disillusionment and despair, ready to secrete our acrid fluid of resentment on anyone who may come near, how might we be an exaltation of larks, instead? Jesus states the purpose his ministry to his friends as St. John reports it. In the last hours of his earthly ministry he says, “I have wanted to give you my joy so that your life will be full.”
If you feel trapped like a toad, I would suggest three possible steps to more exalted feelings:
- First, recognize your need. Life can catch up with us, grab us and keep us in the grip of draining, depressing and deafening sadness. As a hospital chaplain over the years, I’ve seen the many ways life does that—the tragic effects of unhealed sorrow, untreated hurts, and broken trust. Often, we need to have someone in our lives who can wade through the muck with us—one who will share our sorrow and help us to understand that we need to renew our faith and hope. Rather than croaking out the same old tune, we need someone who can help us to put a new song in our throats and help us sing it again. It could be with a friend, a pastor or a counselor you trust.
- Secondly, open yourself to the possibility that you are in need of repentance—not the kind when one is afraid of punishment, the kind that says that we need “turn around” and open ourselves to the possibilities of life. It is the kind of repentance that allows us to spring up from that earthly form and opens ourselves to the possibilities of flight. These could be either through the words of conversation, an act of confession with another human being or a set the actions that get us out of ourselves.
- The final step is the joy of conversion. Most of us think of conversion as a “churchy” word for singing a different and ultimately better tune. Jesus talks about it in terms of finding that which was lost. I begin to understand the mystery of conversion when I get in touchwith the blessedness of my humanity, my need for others and the awareness that this world can be a difficult place to be—all things that get lost in the shuffle of life. We can choose to face these realities with courage, admitting our need for God and for our fellow human beings.
Jesus said that it is in the awareness that it takes love for another to complete the circle—love of self, love of others, love of God. There’s no panacea here – reaching out to others brings our lives into the completeness of joy.
So, toads can become larks. Knots are turned into exaltations—in a love that begins in God through Christ Jesus, our Lord.