Lately I’ve been thinking about joy, partly because the Easter prayers are steeped with gladness as a natural response to the stories of Jesus’ resurrection. Beneath these accounts lies a central reason for joy: the gift of divine presence did not die on the Cross. This Love remains with us.
In Iowa the springtime practically shouts with its intense beauty of vibrant blossoming. This season most always sings of loveliness. Everywhere nature dares one to sense anything except jubilation. In spite of these causes for gladness, some people’s lives bear such ongoing burdens that neither faith in the Resurrection nor earth’s springtime glory serve to automatically unearth their deeply buried joy.
On the other hand, I know people who retain their joy no matter how dismal and difficult their situation. Their lives contain more than average adversity but they manage to somehow retain a genuine joy. It’s not that they deny their hardships. Rather, they do not let these misfortunes conquer their ability to appreciate life. Within them a deep river of gladness flows on and on. Nothing stops or drains its movement. I think the secret to this lies in what Mary Oliver writes in her poem “Mindful.”
Every day/I see or I hear/something/that more or less/kills me/with delight,/that leaves me/like a needle/in the haystack of light./ It is what I was born for – /to look, to listen,/to lose myself/inside this soft world -/to instruct myself/over and over/in joy.
We learn from this excerpt of Oliver’s poem that joy doesn’t hang around without a little effort to keep it there. People with genuine joy deliberately find something, however small, that draws forth gratitude, pleasure, wonder, and love within each day. This view is reinforced in one of Etty Hillisum’s letters written while she was a twenty nine year old Jew interned at Westerbork, less than a year before being killed in Auschwitz’s death camp. The following quote reflects her on-going ability to find something that still allowed her to retain a particle of joy.
I’ve just read this about Paula Modersohn-Becker: “A deeply unexpectant attitude toward life was in her blood, something that was, in fact, a genuine expression of a supreme expectation: disregard of all things external thanks to an instinctive perception of one’s own riches and a secret, not entirely explicable, inner happiness.
Joy is not something to be forced. It is not a fake, paste-on-a-smile sort of thing. Joy comes when one is ready for it to rise. I agree with Mary Oliver. We are born for this. It is a matter of whether or not we are willing to slow down our rapid pace and change old habits of non-awareness. Each day now when I wake in the morning I whisper to my deeper self: “You were born for joy.” (And so are you).
© Joyce Rupp