Often I have referenced Tom Ehrich…a minister, a theologian, a writer, a poet…talented and perceptive. I’ve his permission to print a recent reflection on Joy. Struck me with value…much value. Probably the case I’ve linked joy with a condition…and in this as I reflect upon what he says and when it has happened for me…it struck home. Not to detail…but hopefully you will both read and embrace what he says. Better than any sermon I’ve heard on joy. [Also would recommend for reading and reflection consider subscribing to his editorials…Tom Ehrich–email@example.com]
A MOMENT OF JOY BY TOM EHRICH
You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy. (Isaiah 9.3)
At a superficial level, joy can mean anything from titillation to satisfaction to giddiness to dishwashing liquid. The word is much used and much abused.
At a deeper level, joy is something of a mystery. As many times as I have saluted joy, Joy to the world, joyful and triumphant, Joyful, joyful we adore thee. Mutual joy, I think joy is like the fleeting grace described by Martin Buber. It comes from God, it happens in an instant, and the minute you notice and comment on it, the phenomenon fades.
You cannot cause joy to happen, you cannot store it up for dark days, you can only walk outside and see light refracting through a drop on a branch and be stunned. When you turn to a friend and say, See that light!, it’s over.
I had a moment of such joy last evening. I had worked hard all day in chilly conditions. Now I sat with my wife in front of a roaring fire, warm for the first time all day, and ate dinner on trays. I pushed my chair back. I held out my hand to feel the fire’s warmth. And I felt an instant of joy.
I sighed. I mentioned it to my wife. In what Buber terms the human tragedy, I moved from pure experience to controlled. Even so, for an instant I felt joy.
It came from outside myself. I did nothing to earn it. It didn’t depend on wealth. It didn’t depend on externals like music, candles, exercises in mindfulness, not even the fire itself. This joy felt like a gift. I could replicate the exact conditions tonight and not have the same feeling. I think God was simply being kind.
In the religious world, we work hard to create conditions causing joy. We surround ourselves with excellent music, beautiful art and architecture, rich traditions of liturgy, fellowship and out of that we expect joy. I think we are fooling ourselves. For one thing, our efforts to create joy don’t work; they are more likely to stir envy, control issues, smugness, and bickering. For another thing, God’s kindness cannot be bought or planned.
Joy happens. That’s all. And when it happens, we know that God is near.
The prophet Isaiah said God would multiply the nations and increase its joy. That didn’t happen. The nation splintered. Hardness of heart continued. To this day, nations who claim God as their champion are among the most unhappy, divided and besieged nations on earth.
Joy is a gift, not an accomplishment. It seems intended to transform us, not reward us. To feel joy the real and deeper thing we can only go about living and allowing surprises to reach us.