In preparation for “Joy Sunday”

Joy Candle

I

It is not easy to write about joy.

Joy does not feel like my natural territory. It is tempting to fall into the trap of trite feel-good bromides. The land of “happy” is tantalizing.

But happy is not joy.

Happy is circumstantial. Happy is perky when things go well, but quickly switches when times are tough. Happy is fickle and uncertain.

The New Testament offers a challenging vision of joy. The writer of the Letter of James urges his audience:

whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy.

(James 1:2)

To be able to consider “trials of any kind” “nothing but joy” is to know an inner state that is steady and stable regardless of how things are going in the external world. Joy exists even when life feels crushing. It is independent of circumstance.  

II

Joy is steady and reliable. Happy depends upon externals conforming to my wishes. Joy can be present no matter what may be happening. Joy requires an awareness of a reality deeper than circumstance.

Happy is enmeshed with what is going on. Happy is bound up with likes and dislikes. It functions purely on the feeling level. It thrives when things feel good; it sneaks quietly away when things are difficult and circumstances are harsh. Happy is related to small “l” life. It is tied to the forms in which Life manifests.

Joy functions in the realm of big “L” Life. Joy is connected to that vast unchanging Life Force that spiritual traditions call “God.” Joy transcends happenstance; it lives beyond the constant push and pull of likes and dislikes. It flows from the deep well-spring of Life that surges through all life forms but is not dependent upon any external manifestation.

Joy emerges when I surrender my determination to be in control. I connect to joy when I live more deeply in relationship to what is actually going on.

My desire for “happy” keeps me stuck on the surface. Demanding “happy” I lose touch with the depths in which abiding joy resides.

Joy sees beneath the ripples into the silent depths where it is possible to trust a reality that is not bound to circumstances being a certain way.  

III

The noun “joy” derives from the Latin verb “gaudere;” it means “to rejoice.”

 “Joy” started life as an action word; it is not a state or a possession. Rejoicing is something we do, not something we have.

In Philippians 4:4 Paul encourages his readers to

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.

The Greek word translated “rejoice” is chairo; it relates to grace.  One possible translation of chairo is “be well.” The idea of being well seems more doable than the ecstatic good cheer that is happy-land.

To experience joy is to connect to that place of well-being that does exist within me and that is stronger, more real, and more lasting than all the changeableness of circumstance. I rejoice, not because I believe everything is coming up roses. I rejoice because I trust that, the beauty of the flower dwells within me and cannot be destroyed by the ugliness that so often besets us in life.

IV.

Joy does not mean being happy with everything that is happening. Joy does not carry me through each day on a pink cloud of jolly.

Joy is living in tune with reality as it is.  

To experience joy I need to bring myself into alignment with what is. I need to accept the reality of my circumstances as they are. Joy chooses to live with eyes wide open and to cooperate with the way life works rather than insisting that it work the way I have decided it should.

This is not resignation or defeat. It is simply honesty, clarity and self-awareness. Joy is the opposite of denial. It is that settled sense of well-being that comes from opening to my circumstances just as they are and knowing that there is within me that which sustains me no matter what life may bring.

V.

Joy is an enduring reality at the heart of life.

Paul speaks in II Corinthians of an “abundant joy” that “during a severe ordeal of affliction,” and in the midst of “extreme poverty,” is able to overflow “in a wealth of generosity.”  (II Corintians 8:2)

This joy is not dependent upon circumstance or material well-being. This joy is “abundant;” it does not run out when life is a struggle. This joy is deeply rooted in grace which is the unstinting givingness that is the true nature of life.

The unborn infant floating in amniotic fluid does not fret and worry that her source of sustenance may be exhausted. Joy knows that by grace we are carried in a sea of love that “never fails”. (I Corinthians 13:8)

The joy Paul describes is connected to the steady strong faithful abiding stream of Life that carries on no matter what. This joy is rooted in the faith that, despite the worst thing that can happen, Life goes on; there is a power of love and light that does not die. Life is not fickle.

This is the joy of resurrection that the women felt when they “left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.” (Matthew 28:8) This joy can coexist with fear, uncertainty, and doubt because it draws from a source that runs deeper than fleeting feelings.