Archive for August, 2010
Gilbert Keith Chesterton, a great and merry soul, called joy the gigantic secret of the Christian life. Near the end of his classic, beautiful book Orthodoxy, he writes on the veiled joy he finds in Jesus:
“The tremendous figure which fills the Gospels towers in this respect, as in every other, above all the thinkers who ever thought themselves tall. His pathos was natural, almost casual. The Stoics, ancient and modern, were proud of concealing their tears. He never concealed His tears; He showed them plainly on His open face at any daily sight, such as the far sight of His native city. Yet He concealed something. Solemn supermen and imperial diplomatists are proud of restraining their anger. He never restrained His anger. He flung furniture down the front steps of the Temple, and asked men how they expected to escape the damnation of Hell. Yet He restrained something… There was something that He hid from all men when He went up a mountain to pray. There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation. There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.”
And one day we’ll not only see that mirth fully revealed but then also live fully in it.
Just back from holidays on the West Coast of Canada and catching up on some blogging.
Today, I’ll keep it simple. Here’s what I think joy might look like.
It’s Lily on a rocky beach of the west coast of Vancouver Island, surrounded by sea and sunshine. We walked down a path near our cabin, clambered across rocks and driftwood and ended the day watching the waves crash around us.
You can’t help but be struck by the repeated call to joy and gladness throughout the Psalms. Obviously, the writers of the different Psalms had many good reasons for joy, and for calling other people to joy. It’s intriguing, this call for joy, because the Psalms are also filled with numerous laments – which must mean that joy and sorrow do live together side-by-side.
Below is a random sampling of joy references in the psalms – trusting you might find your call to joy in one of them:
- “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.” (Ps. 100:1-2)
- “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.” (Ps. 30:11)
- “In your presences is fullness of joy; in your right hand there are pleasures forever.” (Ps. 16:11)
- “Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires od your heart.” (Ps. 37:4)
- “Let Israel rejoice in their Maker; let the people of Zion be glad in their King … for the Lord takes delight in his people.” (Ps. 149:2, 4)
- “Let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy.” (Ps. 5:11)
- “May the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful.” (Ps. 68:3)
- “Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.” (Ps. 90:14)
- “Let them sacrifice thank offerings and tell of his works with songs of joy.” (Ps. 107:22)
- “May all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you.” (Ps. 70:4)
- “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.” (Ps. 126:3)
- “Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous: ‘The Lord’s right hand has done mighty things.'” (Ps. 118:15)
- “You make me glad by your deeds, O Lord; I sing for joy at the works of your hands.” (Ps. 92:4)
I spoke with a friend at church a few weeks back about this blog and the 90 day experiment. We talked of the wrestling match he’s finding himself in during this 90 day of living in joy – how to live with gladness in a broken and hurting world. He talked about his genuine struggle to feel authentic joy knowing there are children with bloated and hungry bellies, women cowering under a fist of abuse, too many wasting away of HIV/AIDS, nations ruled by corrupt dictators.
I get that struggle. What right do we have to joy in a world bent over with sorrow? How dare we enjoy lightness and delight in the face of scandalous misery and injustice? Maybe not even in the face of it but even with such horrors somewhere in the neighborhood? It has the feel of self-absorption, a luxuriating indifference to all that’s wrong.
But here’s what I’m wondering – can you be a person of justice and compassion without a strong rooting in joy? Perhaps a better question is this: what will make your life deeply compassionate, someone quick and ready to fight injustice and care for the overwhelming needs of the marginalized and poor?
Guilt won’t do it. You might be prompted to send some money for hungry Asian children because of a guilt hangover. You may do guilt-induced work for justice for victims of oppression – in the short term. But guilt is not a long term energy for moral. It’s sort of like sugar – you might get a quick boost of action but wait for the low because it is coming. Guilt simply won’t fuel a lasting life of justice and compassion.
I’m growing convinced that joy and gladness are the needed resources to fuel a just and compassionate life. There’s a really strong hint of this in Hebrews 12 where it reports that Jesus “for the joy set before him, endured the cross.” With his gaze locked in on joy, Jesus fully entered our misery, suffered injustice and mockery, endured pain. Joy was the motivating impulse for the cross, which makes me wonder if it is only joy which will actually move any of us to become justice hungry citizens.
Instead of questioning the legitimacy of joy in an often misery filled world, could it be that joy is exactly what you need to brave the misery, face the brokenness and live justly and compassionately in this world?
I vote for G.K. Chesterton as the grand jester of heaven. And here is a quote to back up my vote:
“Man is more himself, man is more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing about him,and grief the superficial. Melancholy should be an innocent interlude, a tender and fugitive frame of mind; praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul. Pessimism is at best an emotional half-holiday; joy is the uproarious labour by which all things live.” (Orthodoxy)
How is that for fabulously contrarian thinking!
As I keep with the 90 day experiment in joy, quotations about joy and happiness keep leaping out and grabbing me. Here’s a quick sampling for good quotes that keep building the convincing case that we are made for joy:
“It is the decided opinion of all who use their brains, that all people desire to be happy.” (Augustine, The City of God)
“All people are in search of happiness. there is no exception to this whatever different methods are employed.” (Blaise Pascal, Pensees)
“In every real man the will for life is the will for joy. It is hypocrisy to hide this from oneself.” (Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, vol. 3)
“Saints and sinners, all alike, love happiness, and have the same unalterable and instinctive inclination to desire and seek it.” (Jonathan Edwards, Christian Love and its Fruit)
“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.” (Henri Nouwen)
“It takes moral courage to grieve; it requires religious courage to rejoice” (Soren Kierkegaard)
“There is not one blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice.” (John Calvin)
Know of any good quotes to add?
Picture this – Ambleside Beach in West Vancouver. You see Stanley Park and the Lions Gate Bridge to the left, Vancouver’s Point Grey straight ahead and English Bay glistening in the foreground. Along with friends, we find a nice spot in the warm sand, leaning up against the logs lying on the beach and enjoying the cool breeze blowing off English Bay with that saltwater scent in the air. My body is desperate for a nap so I settle down on a towel, confident of the two uber moms who are watching the kids. Listening to the waves wash on shore and the muffled laughter of children and caws of gulls, I let the afternoon doziness overtake me, falling off into a delicious nap.
That is bliss on steroids, delight in hyperdrive.