Posted by: Bill Tracy | December 24, 2012

Joy To the World

Melt the clouds of sin and sadness

Drive the dark of doubt away.

 -From Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee by Henry van Dyke

 

Joy to the world!

Joy to the world!

I can’t recall a less joyous Christmas than this one. Not in my lifetime anyway, and I’ve seen more than 60 of them. How do we heal from the spiritual pummellings we are enduring? Children and teachers slaughtered in the innocent venture of an elementary school. The everyday violence of our society engendering murder of one another; nearly 70 fellow humans dead by our hand in Camden, New Jersey this year alone. A hidden epidemic of young adults, many with solid educational achievement, homeless and unemployed; no jobs, no opportunity and their lives slowly draining away as hope withers. A president sits in the White House going over lists, naming those to be killed by drones, futilely hoping the hellfire missiles they use will miss nearby children. Joy to the world? How can we possibly summon joy amid such icy darkness?

I don’t know how we get to joy these days. Yet I believe the simplicity of sheer joy may be an antidote to our troubles, the balm needed by our spirits. How do we get to joy in this world and in our own lives? I hardly know what joy is let alone how to bring it. We’ve all, I hope, experienced joy, and we know it when we see it – sort of a happiness on steroids feeling. We like it, we want it, yet we know so little about it.

Joy Is Yours!

Joy Is Yours!

You don’t hear much about joy these days. When I google “joy,” I see a few halting definitions and several commercial sites, chief among them Joy Global, Inc., a mining equipment manufacturer – not much joy in raping the earth I imagine. I can remember a couple of joy books – The Joy of Cooking and The Joy of Sex. They seem far in the past. Maybe in the face of so much violence and uncertainty and fear we’ve forgotten joy. Or maybe it’s just somehow unfashionable. Once, women were named Joy, yet I haven’t met anyone with that name in years. The truth, probably, is that we’ve allowed fear to overwhelm our fragile joy.

As you go through your average day how many people do you see with joy in their faces? Joy beaming from their eyes? When I look I mostly see worry, anger and fear – the wearying cares and burdens of this world. Will I lose my job? Will I have enough to pay the electric bill? Will that strange noise the car is making be more than the limit on my credit card? Will my child survive bullies at school?

How can we experience joy if we’re worried and afraid? Well, I think joy can banish fear, if we stop a moment and let it in. I also think we have to be deliberate about joy. I believe we have to consciously work at joy – to keep it alive in our minds and hearts while we search for it in every human interaction. Maybe looking for ways we can give joy to other people in everything we do is an effective strategy, a successful attitude. Joy may surprise us in the rare, unguarded moment, but I think it’s more likely to grace us if we actively seek it. Joy can be cultivated as a positive alternative to a life of worry and fear. Yet, if we don’t know what joy really is, how can we cultivate it?

Georgianna's joy. We can find joy amid tragedy. The woman on the right is Georgianna Jedrzejewski. She was murdered in the streets of Camden, NJ weeks after joining this loving family at Bridge of Peace Church.

Georgianna’s joy. We can find joy amid tragedy. The woman on the right is Georgianna Jedrzejewski. A homeless veteran, she was murdered in the streets of Camden, NJ weeks after joining this loving family at Bridge of Peace Church. She had found joy, and that gives me joy.

As I’ve thought about joy, one thing has become clear. I’ve almost never experienced joy without some connection to other living beings. I suppose it’s possible to experience joy alone down the Grand Canyon or up the starry night sky or upon the vast oceans; for me that would be more awe than joy. The Dalai Lama seems to think the same thing when he says: “…we can say that other sentient beings are really the principal source of all our experiences of joy….” The final scene of the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, epitomizes this for me. It’s literally a primer on joy. After all the ups and downs of the movie, George Bailey is ecstatic in learning that other people, his friends, will happily sacrifice for his well being. They cannot abide trouble for their friend, George. In George’s living room, surrounded by family and friends, are soft smiles all around, joy lighting up the eyes. Even the cold and stern bank examiner tosses in a dollar for George before breaking out in smile and song.

Song may be the ultimate accompaniment to the experience of joy with other people. Maybe that’s why it’s so central to all religious rites. Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Ode To Joy, is considered by many to be the greatest piece of music ever created. And the first line of Friedrich Schiller’s poem that Beethoven is musically celebrating says, “Joy, beautiful spark of Gods.” Wonderful Life ends with the old folk song Auld Lang Syne that celebrates the nostalgia of  “old acquaintances.”  Perhaps this year, joy is to be found as we “take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.”

Joy to the world! It may be what saves us.

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Responses

  1. Bless Georgianna and I’m glad she found happiness at the end of her journey.

    I agree that joy is the saving grace of humanity. I have been doing a lot of reading on the neuroplasticity of the brain. Apparently a positive and constructive outlook (attained from working at it via meditation) can actually change the brain permanently, enlarging the frontal lob area of the brain responsible for positive outlook and compassion). And people with joy and compassion in their hearts actually have a larger more coherent electro-magnetic field and are more powerful influencers, bringing the experience of peace to others (hearthmath.org). So, it is our duty and our joy to have joy in our hearts. But I will spare you my singing so you may continue to experience joy :o)

    As a spiritual rapper says, “Be warriors, not worriers” – I take that to mean be joyful especially through the darkness.


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