5-5-15 - Joy

Joy is an elusive state of being – and a gift. It must be received; it cannot be acquired. We cannot achieve joy by trying, or by talking about it. I’ve tried. And yet it seems it is something Jesus wants his followers to possess: “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” (This week's Gospel passage is here.)

Joy defies easy definition. It is not the same as happiness or contentment, though it shares attributes with those conditions. It is deeper, a way of being and seeing that comes from the core of us, and gives us a sense of “alrightness” no matter what our circumstances. It takes deep faith, decisive faith to believe that “all things shall be well” in the face of so much evidence to the contrary. The evidence God gives us, of resurrection life triumphing over all evil and degradation, disease and death, can seem flimsy in the face of what our natural senses tell us. Those who possess joy are able to proclaim life in the face of death, not denying the reality of pain and evil, but living in the "already" of the victory Christ won over them.

Joy cannot be acquired or fabricated. But I think it can be cultivated. We can expand our capacity to receive joy. We can take the kernel that is there in us, which we are promised as a gift of the Spirit, and help it to grow. How do we cultivate joy and increase our capacity for joy?

We can start with gratitude. The spiritual practice of gratitude waters the seeds of joy in us. Calling to mind God’s gifts to us, unexpected blessings, all the times things do work out against the odds, or in spite of them, creates an atmosphere in us in which joy can grow and flourish. Similarly, compassion for ourselves and for others helps nurture a climate in which joy can thrive.

We can also flex our “joy muscles.” We must decide to be people of joy, apart from how we feel on a given day or hour. If we accept that joy is a gift of the Spirit, and we accept that Jesus names it as a mark of Christ-followers, we can commit ourselves to letting it grow in us. So often we let anxiety or grief to take root in us; for some, these are so deeply rooted we can’t imagine living without them. How about allowing God to plant the seed of joy that deep in us, to gradually uproot those life-squashing states of being?

What is your relationship to joy? Is it familiar to you, or rare? Some of us didn’t learn joy growing up, or have had it suppressed by circumstances. We need to make space for it now, as a choice and a decision.

If we allow that God has already planted the seed of joy in us, then we need to water it and weed around it and make sure it gets plenty of sunlight. We water it with gratitude and compassion and generosity. We weed away the cares and preoccupations that threaten to choke our joy – worry, envy, competitiveness, greed, gluttony – the usual suspects. And we give it plenty of exposure to the light of the Son in prayer, and worship and mission.

Jesus told his followers he wanted their joy to be complete. Not just a little – the whole deal. We can feel and show forth joy in times of trial and sadness, stress and adversity. Perhaps, like the light cast by a beacon on a stormy night, joy is most visible in the dark.

No comments:

Post a Comment