Surprised by Joy
April 19, 2007 by 9 Comments
I think I have met a good number of saints in my life. Some I can name: One was Mother Teresa. Two was an old lady named June. Three was her daughter. Four was an old priest named Richard and Five was a priest named John. Six was a young priest named James.
When I call to mind there have been a good many others. Some have been old, some have been young, some Anglican, some Catholic. The distinguishing mark in all of them is a quality called joy.
I’m not sure exactly how to describe joy, but I know what it’s not. It’s not mere happiness or feeling fine. Neither is it giddiness, hilarity or what some people call ‘evangelical perma-grin’ (that everlastingly smug smile some pious people paste on) Neither is it a sentimental, twee religious happy time, nor some spooky religious high that you sometimes find in devotees of Eastern religions.
Instead Christian joy is a tough, shrewd realism built on a bedrock of optimism. The energy and determination of joy is formidable. Joy is a steam engine that is unstoppable. Joy laughs quickly, but it also weeps quickly in compassion. Joy is an authentic clarity of vision, a simplicity of style and a direct way of speaking in total honesty, but without a touch of malice. It is honest, open, attractive and infectious. Joy is more than a lift of the heart or the buoyancy of spirit that comes from external circumstances. Joy springs up from the depths of a heart that has been truly converted by the power of the resurrection.
That is the best way to describe joy: it is a heart raised up and being raised up and forever being raised up. It is the everlasing lift of the heart renewed. It is tough, tender, hilarious and alive.
Joy is a uniquely Christian grace.
What other religion has joy? Can any religion determined by legalism engender joy? I doubt it. Can any religion determined by fatalism and negation of this world engender joy? Never. Can any religion determined by human preference or good works engender joy? Hardly.
Finally, can any religious believer who is continually lacking in joy evidence a truly authentic faith? Not for my money. One may argue, “But what about the people who are locked in terrible suffering? Surely they cannot evidence joy? Surely they are allowed to be blue, to be down in th dumps. Surely Father, they are allowed to sometimes be a little depressed?”
I would, out of compassion, wish to agree, but then one of the most joyful people I know is an old hermit who has had nothing but heartbreak, poor health, pain and suffering her whole life. One of the most joyful people I’ve met went through decades of spiritual suffering and darkness. One of the saints I met who was joyful to the end got cancer when he was in his mid thirties and died a painful death.
Do you want to find authentic religion? Look for joy.
Are you looking for a saint? Look for joy.