Joy seems to be a rare commodity these days. In the good old days, of even a few weeks ago, we happily pursued our joy. We had upcoming trips, a night at the movies, a date with friends, a visit with family, or any of a thousand experiences that give us pleasure. Joy was ours for the taking. Today we are stuck at home and it seems so many of the things that brought us joy are out of reach. Joy, so tightly connected to what we have, control, touch, or consume has left us. Our joy has turned to sorrow.
Yet, in this season we are rediscovering what others before us have learned about joy. Joy is not something we can own or posses. Advertisers go to great lengths to convince us that joy is a commodity, often found in a bottle of herbal shampoo, or in contours of a new car. These things are a shadow of joy, but not joy itself. Joy works differently and if wise voices of the past have taught us anything, it’s that joy is already much closer than we think. This reorientation is no small feat. CS Lewis said it well when he opined that, “Joy is the serious business of heaven.” It is the vital and essential work of bringing goodness and love into the dark corners of our lives, and presently there are no shortage of dark corners. Nurturing joy in this world is indeed serious business.
Anne Frank, who faced tremendous circumstances that should have stripped her sense of joy, found another way to see her life. She said, “look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.” She had a way of turning this light and shining it on things that brought joy, saying, “Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy.”
While CS Lewis and Anne Frank found joy in the midst of the terrors of World War 2, others who faced tragedy found ways to discover joy long after their sorrow. Fyodor Dostoevsky said, “It’s the great mystery that old grief passes gradually into quiet tender joy.” For him, grief and pain are not the death of joy, but the soil in which joy can grow anew.
These are not the musings of naive optimists who simply found the silver lining in a bad situation. Rather they were decidedly alert to the hardship before them. Wendell Berry says, thoughtfully, “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.” Before us today in this Covid-19 crisis is a monster challenge that threatens to take our joy. Instead of hiding and pretending that this is not a bad situation, we can stand with eyes open and see this season for what it is: terrible. It is in this sorrow that we can begin to discover joy again.
This is serious business, but it is the work we have before us. Like Lewis, Frank, Dostoevsky, and countless others, we stand to make a choice about how we proceed. To choose joy is the serious work of bringing heaven into the dark corners of our community with courage, creativity, and hope. Together we can find joy, and we may very well discover it in places, and in people, where we never thought before to look.
May you find joy this day in your neighbourhood, and may you enjoy the serious and persistent business of discovering joy in these challenging times.