We went walking in a state park Sunday. In irrepressible defiance of our state’s modest stay-at-home order, people were out in herds, scampering over rocks and making way for each other on little, twisty gully trails. We all needed some fresh air and to get out. We all needed a shot of spring joy in our lives.
With the bad news from corona country on perpetual drip feed, we need a little joy right now. With the constant talk of sacrifice and hunkering down and battling the pandemic, we might forget that God has created us for joy. And with people out of work and wheezing in hospitals, we might question whether we have a right to be joyful. But Jesus taught us “so that my joy may be in you” (John 15:11). His youngest student John longed to gather with the Christian community “so that our joy may be complete” (2 John 12). Here are three kinds of joy we can be especially open to right now.
- Joy in the moment. Be here, right now. As important as keeping up on the news is, there’s a way in which it dislocates us from the plot of sacred space right in front of us. Tilt your head up and take in the tracks of those vertebral clouds. Notice that the park is brushed emerald with happy little trees. Power lines tremble with wind and birds. And (sorry if this sounds like advice off a box of herbal tea): receive the gift of God’s now.
- Joy in stillness. So often we derive satisfaction from the next big thing. Our lives are onward and upward, or at least we imagine them that way, and it gives us an adrenal kick. Not right now. Plans are frozen. Jobs, if you’ve still got one, are in a holding pattern. Things feel stuck. Which is a good time to recognize that there’s a kind of joy that comes from being at peace with quiet. Have you ever experienced this? It’s a joy that’s easily startled. It rises up shyly within us when we hold still and pray and breathe. You can’t analyze this joy too carefully, because it’s not a joy that comes from anything obviously going our way. This joy drifts across the face of our soul like a bright cloud. And then it’s gone. Its source and destiny is God. Your infant has squalled himself out and fallen asleep in the crook of your arm. The sun has found you with its molten smile. And that grackle with its call like rusty scissors was sent just for you.
- Joy in relinquishment. Jesus said: “Whoever loses his life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:25). We can’t acquire our way into the kingdom. The Jesus-life involves giving up and letting go: our plans, our expectations, the future we had put in place, brick by brick. None of it’s certain. Nothing is guaranteed. I wonder: rather than despairing, can we release our lives and future into God’s capable hands? There’s joy to be discovered in this sort of relinquishment, because it’s an act of trust. This joy comes from letting go of ourselves to cling to Christ. God has invited us to his table, and we find that if we’re going to approach, we have to surrender our claims to essential business (Luke 14:15-24). Like the Rain for Roots song, “Wedding Banquet,” we have to lay down our pretensions and just “come to the table of the Groom.” (BTW–Rain for Roots crafts lovely, artistically interesting and reverent music. I’m looking forward to their new album: All Creatures!)
Here are some of my recent joys: a spring garden lovelier than it has been in years because so many other commitments have been cancelled and I have time to fight the weeds. A one-year-old playing in the dirt while I work. Ten thousand birds calling to each in the morning’s dark before the day begins. Words clotting on the page, some of them the right words.
With all of the compassion for our fellow human beings that’s called for right now, with all of the global solidarity we need with those who are hurting, with the steadfastness that these upending times demand of us, don’t forget joy. God has not created our lives to be a bundle of commitments and causes. We just are, and as we are, we are worthy of experiencing God’s joy.