Who is the other,
this secret sharer
who directs the hand
that twists the heart,
the voice calling out to me
between feather and stone
the hour before dawn?
A few years back, my girlfriend bought three large wooden letters - J, O, and Y - painted them and used them in a few photo ops, the most memorable being a Christmas pic with our three fleshly kids holding the three wooden letters and trying to emit facial expressions that were at least in the ballpark of their lap-lettered word. They did o.k. It's hard to just whip up some joy. You can screw up your courage just fine, but joy's a toughie.
I hadn't seen the letters for some time, but my girlfriend pulled them out of retirement this year and placed them in our kitchen windowsill as the reason for the season, or something like that. All the other seasonal decorations have since gone back to bed, but J, O, and Y are still up, refusing to go to sleep.
I sit at our kitchen table each morning to pray and read and type and drink and those three wise letters are in my direct line of sight. Anytime I look up from Our Father and my books and the keyboard and the coffee, I see them. What I've noticed lately is their stance. Initially, they were each on their own, so to speak. J was balanced back against the window, O followed suit a two-fingers distance away, and Y was able to stand on its own due to the font choice of the initial woodcarver. But that was then.
I'm not sure what factors have led to this - could be an uneven windowsill, the weather, the daily raising of the blinds above them, or a combination of all of the above - but the once fiercely independent letters are now huddled together, like three kids in a Christmas photo op. It appears that J and O leaned over until they could touch the stable Y. There is no fingers distance between them; they're touching one another, like they like each other.
I grew up hearing J, O, and Y fleshed out as Jesus, Others, and You. That was the prescribed pathway to JOY, a vertical hierarchy of priorities: you must put Jesus first in your life, then Others are to be tended to, and You come in last. The voices of well-meaning adults told me that if you ever got the letters out of order, then you might have Y, J, and O or O, J and Y, but you could kiss any hopes of having J, O, and Y goodbye. Well-meaning adults don't really say, "kiss any hopes goodbye," but you know what I well-mean.
But that was then.
The three wooden letters in our kitchen windowsill have shown me that there is no vertical hierarchy to J, O, and Y, but rather a huddled horizontal. J, O, and Y read best, spell best, and work best when they're touching one another on the same plane. To keep them in vertical categories of importance, or even at a fingers distance horizontally, is to kill the word - to be a kill-JOY. Where does Jesus stop and Others begin? Where do Others stop and I begin? Is not the love I show for the least of these, which many times includes myself, showing love for Jesus? And if we all bleed into one another at times, then the only way to keep J, O, and Y separate is to cut them apart somehow or tell them to keep their hands to themselves - a.k.a, breaking up the family or making them behave.
Sure, we gotta keep boundaries and if we bleed completely into one another then there's no word at all and there is a God and he's not us, BLAH-BLAH-BLAH. We much prefer spelling to living, eh?
Old pop Peterson translates apostolic John's pregnant words as Jesus "moved into the neighborhood." Well-meaning young buck Blase translates them as Jesus "huddled up beside us on the windowsill." The Word made flesh, who leans among us, you and I.
J, O, and Y.