Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth:
break into singing and make melody.
9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.
11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
John 15:9, 11
If love can be said to cast out fear (1 John 4:18), could we also say, true joy casts out feelings of exclusion and loneliness? May be it also casts out the need to control? St Paul tells us that joy and love and peace etc. are fruits of the spirit. Are these things something we can cultivate in our lives? After all, we cultivate fruit trees in our back yard or on a farm. Can we choose to be more joyful, more loving or more peaceful?
What is it that makes some people feel the opposite, unloved, unhappy and anxious? What is it that makes us want to control the world we occupy? I heard a programme on the radio about poker machines. Two women spoke of losing in one case $200 000 and in the other case $500 000. Addictions like that are much more complicated than just saying they must have been deeply unhappy to fall into a dark whirlpool of addiction. Most people’s fears and pain do not lead to anything as dark as addiction. And if the darkness of addiction is one example deep separation from love and joy I can’t promise that the joy of knowing Jesus will immediately or even quickly cast out the fears and pain of life.
In this passage in John’s Gospel, Jesus promises that our joy will be complete. That in itself comes because his joy is in us. Now I am not sure that if you took some kind of measure of a Christian community and compared it to other groups in the community that you would find us to be more joyful. Some Christian communities appear instead to be quite miserable. May be joy is not something you can measure. But you do meet individual Christians who have an inner joy. Their joy is often woven together with love and peace and hope. They are not necessarily the life of the party like a young 21 year old full of good wine. Their inner joy is quieter and seems to have a depth to it.
I don’t really feel like an expert on this experience of joy so I picked up again my copy of CS Lewis’ book Surprised by Joy. I only skim read a portion of it this time but I felt a few of his thoughts might help in this reflection.
Lewis says, you can’t build a “temple” to that experience of joy. If a particular book of Nordic saga brought joy to him he was tempted to devour every skerrick of literature around that subject. In delving in like that he gained an enormous amount of knowledge but the initial joy seemed to dissipate the more he knew. It was a bit like the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration. Peter wanted to build three booths. Pilgrims that go to Jerusalem are confronted with large Churches on every “holy sight”. None of these things capture joy. So if we can’t build an edifice around an experience of joy, what can we do to cultivate it?
Lewis says he learned from one of his mentors to surrender to the elements of life. On a rainy day look for the log on the ground that is most drenched. On a windy day go up to the hill where the wind is the strongest. Our natural response is to find a dry spot and get out of the wind. I certainly remember when I was on a yacht many years ago one of my most joyful moments was lashing down the anchor on the prow as the yacht crashed out through the waves. From where the rest of the crew were looking on in the safety of cabin I would disappear from sight with each wave and reappear as the wave washed over the deck. As I returned to them they were delighted to see me safe but also commented on my smile from ear to ear.
The elements of life will not just be salt water waves over the bow of a yacht. Life throws waves of grief and waves of pain at us. CS Lewis seems to be inviting us to allow these waves to wash over us as well and not to run away from them.
Another interesting notion I picked up from my very cursory re-reading was that to remember is part of the experience of joy. That ought to be obvious to Christians. Each week we remember the last supper. The word on the front of the Altar at the moment is anamnesis in Greek the root word behind Jesus’ phrase do this in memory of me. When we remember through the reading of Scripture, through the drama of the liturgy, through the tangible action of eating and drinking we bring to mind the last Supper and the depth of meaning behind it. The words and the actions of the liturgy don’t capture the joy of being in the presence of Jesus any more than vast knowledge of Nordic Folk Lore or an edifice on the Mount of Transfiguration. But they can help to bring to the present both the joy and the melancholy of the last Supper. As we enter into it the words of redemption come to life once again bringing a new or deeper joy. Let’s not forget to gather for worship regularly as some of the early Christians did. In remembering week after week we open ourselves to joy.
The psalmist perhaps also offers another way to cultivate joy.
5 Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth:
break into singing and make melody.
6 Make melody to the Lord upon the harp:
upon the harp and with the sounds of praise.
7 With trumpets and with horns:
cry out in triumph before the Lord, the king.
8 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it…
May be celebrating, and singing and dancing, the sorts of things that children seem to do naturally, create a sense of joy. Most of the Children at the end of the Family service don’t have to be told a second time that they can join in with tambourines and drums. They love to make a joyful noise. Jesus tells us we need to become like children to enter into the Kingdom of heaven. May be that includes letting our inhabitations go making a joyful noise or even dancing for joy in the isle. I can remember when our kids were very young I could get on the floor and pretend to be a lion roaring or a bucking horse, or we could have our own little dance party and we had an immense amount of joy. Of course if someone came to the door it would all stop very suddenly. The psalmist seems to me to be inviting us to regain that childlike exuberance and to make a joyful noise to the Lord.
If we embrace these things: the childlike exuberance; the remembering that Christ is present; and enter into the tempest that life throws at us we will open ourselves to joy. We will know Christ’s joy within us. The feelings of isolation or loneliness, the feeling that we need to control or whatever it is that suffocates us will begin to evaporate. And along with this experience of Joy, it will be intermingled with love and hope casting out our fears and anxieties. Let us shout with joy to the Lord.