Joy, Joy, My Heart is Full of Joy


In order to counterbalance last week's repost of Ben Myer's 12 Theses on Sadness, and to allay the fears of those who think I'm about to take a long walk off a short pier, here is his recent post on "Joy." Maybe it's just where I am, but I don't find his thinking quite so compelling as in last week's post, however I do firmly believe in something said by Gerald Coates (always one to say something interesting, even if it is completely bonkers far too often)


"If the joy of the Lord is our strength, it's little wonder that the church in Britain has been so weak and ineffective."


Gerald Coates (1984)



1. As icons are painted on gold, so the lives of saints are written on a background of light.
2. Evelyn Underhill knew a saintly man, Father Wainwright. ‘He was an indifferent – and in later years an inarticulate – preacher; people came to his sermons, not so much to listen as to look at his face.’
3. Why are the faces of holy people so important, not only in iconography but also in Christian experience and memory? Joy is the physical surfacing of the light of God. As the moon reflects the sun, so joy shines in the holy face.
4. Each thing shines with its own particularity, the irreducible strangeness of its difference. Chesterton speaks of ‘the startling wetness of water’, ‘the fieriness of fire’, ‘the unutterable muddiness of mud’. Joy is the vision of each thing’s shining, an awareness of the unbearably bright difference of every other thing.
5. A painting summons us to relish its lines and colours; a tree invites us to marvel at its roots and leafy shadows; the body of a lover beckons us to draw delight from its hidden wells; young children demand that we face them while they play, so that the miracle of their difference will not be without witnesses. Left to ourselves we shrink inwards, anaesthetised by a drowsy solipsism. Joy is waking to reality; joy is salvation from the self. It is our startled response to the call of another.
6. Joy is itinerant and can be visited in many places, but its regular venue is friendship. Friendship is the love of difference. The face of the friend is the mirror in which the joy of one's own difference shines.
7. The subjective precondition for joy is not earnestness or sentimentality (much less a posture of generic ‘openness’), but attention. Attention is the discipline of active passivity, an intense concentration on what is there. It is what Simone Weil calls ‘waiting’: ‘We do not obtain the most precious gifts by going in search of them but by waiting for them [attendus].’ This is why Paul speaks of joy not as aesthetics but as ethics. Writing to the Philippians in the chains of Christ, he subjects them to a moral imperative: ‘Rejoice!’
8. Raw materials for a Christian ethics of joy: the distance of prayer; the patience of reading; the veneration of the meal; the delight of friendship; the tenderness of eros; the love of childhood; the obedience of learning; the speed of imagining; the superfluity of art; and the omneity of language.
9. Joy is most intimately related not to happiness but to sorrow, not to fullness but to the void of non-being. Joy is ontological vulnerability, a leap across the abyss of difference. Sorrow is a small hole in the flute through which joy breathes its tune.
10. Happiness is analogous to joy as Facebook is analogous to friendship, or as a brothel is analogous to marriage. Happiness is the gratification of desire. Joy does not fulfil desire but exceeds it so majestically as to obliterate it. Joy is ascesis, the criticism of desire. The criticism of desire is also desire’s purgation and renovation. Joy is the baptism of desire, its drowning and rising again. The fullness of joy is an ache of absence. ‘Our best havings are wantings’ (C. S. Lewis).
11. Because joy breaks desire and denies all gratification, it finds itself in a strange alliance with the tragic.
12. Joy resists articulation and control. It is always vanishing, always beckoning, inconsolable union of memory and hope. It cannot be grasped since its nature is to undo all grasping. What would it mean to possess joy fully, to hold it fast so that it did not vanish away? That would be resurrection: the shining of eternity in a body of death.

I'm not sure that his distancing of happiness from joy can be justified from scripture except where it is the pseudo-happiness that many Americans (and citizens of the western world in imitation of them) pursue as a constitutional right, rather than the blessed happiness of Jesus' beatitudes (I may also be bristling a little at his glib swipe the easy target of Facebook). However, this piece is worth reading if for nothing than his simple statement that "Sorrow is a small hole in the flute through which joy breathes its tune".

Such an insight offers a perspective of profound beauty and truth.

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