Joy, Joy, my heart is full of Joy - A partial reblog
A couple of years ago I reposted a pair of Ben Myer's posts, one on sadness (that spoke profoundly to where I was at the time, and where many will be today - indeed I nearly reposted his prayer for Newtown Connecticut), and another on "Joy." As I said at the time I firmly believe in what Gerald Coates (always interesting, frequently bonkers) said at one time:
"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)
But recently for some reason this repost has been appearing in the weekly top read list on my side bar, and I thought, in the light of yesterday's Advent Candle theme of "Joy" it was probably worth dusting off Ben's "12 Theses" on the subject.
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.
As I said back in 2010 I'm not sure that his distancing of happiness from joy can be justified in Biblical terms, except where it is the pseudo-happiness that many Americans (and citizens of the western world in imitation of them) pursue headlong as a fundamental constitutional right, rather than the blessed happiness of Jesus' beatitudes.
Reading it again, however, in advent, and having come through that "dark night" that I was in at the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011, I am struck more strongly by 2 of his theses:.
First, the importance of "attention" or "waiting" in the cultivation of joy - two of the tools that have been vital in my ongoing battle with depression and anxiety have been the discipline of reflective prayer and mindfulness techniques.
But second, and this is again important in the light of the Newtown massacre this weekend:
"Sorrow is a small hole in the flute through which joy breathes its tune".
In the case on Newtown, it is not such a small hole, but I pray that those directly affected by this tragedy, and others affected by personal pain, may know the joy of the Lord in the midst of their sorrow.