. . . then there was JOY
In a world currently stripped of happiness and laughter, speaking of joy seems rather alien. Life as we once knew it is gradually disappearing, now that a deadly virus has penetrated deep into our society. Yet, I recently found myself singing the Carey Landry hymn, “The joy of the Lord is my strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10).
As I sang the words over and over again, gradually the Lord’s joy started to fill me. In this biblical passage, we learn that Ezra told the remnant of Israel who had returned to Judah, to rebuild the city and the temple. It was a time of restoration. He encouraged them to rejoice and celebrate.
We are unfortunately nowhere near a time of celebration, as the coronavirus has forced us to self isolate. However, we have entered the Easter season. This Paschal time should fill us with joy as we greet all, with the ancient Christian greeting, “Christ has risen. He has risen indeed.”
The passion of our Lord has now erupted in songs of jubilation. Leonard Cohen’s haunting Hallelujah music echoes in my soul, and I am rejuvenated. The resurrected Christ is truly in our midst.
Joy surprises me as it arrives on my doorstep, and I am momentarily transported to Ein Karem in Israel, where Mary met her cousin Elizabeth, and sang a song of joy – the Magnificat. I am keenly aware that we are as St. Augustine says, “an Easter people, and Alleluia is our song.”
But where do we find joy? Bishop Robert Barron repeatedly tells us that joy is not found in power, prestige, honour, and money. It is found rather in a relationship with Jesus.
St. Therese of Liseux clearly states, “Joy isn’t found in the material objects surrounding us, but in the inner recesses of the soul.” She goes on to say, “One can possess joy in a prison cell as well as in a palace.”
Which brings me to Nelson Mandela. How did he survive being imprisoned for 27 years? Most of that time, he was on Robben Island off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa. When I walked around that prison and saw his cell, I wondered if he experienced any joy while being incarcerated. His letters reveal a person in agony, but with a strong, patient spirit. In the midst of his pain, could there have been a few moments of joy?!
Joy, I have discovered, is an inside job. Richard Rohr OFM says, “It is God within us that loves God, so seek joy in God and peace within.” Undoubtedly, true joy is more difficult to access, and even more difficult to hold onto.
In his last discourse, Jesus tells his disciples, “I have spoken these things to you, so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11) The saints were attentive to the risen Christ in their lives and so experienced joy.
St. Benedict knew that joy when doing Lectio Divina, meditating on the Scriptures. St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Jean Vianney, the Cure of Ars experienced joy through encountering Jesus in the Eucharist, as did St. Padre Pio.
When have I encountered the Lord that has brought me joy? Many instances flood my mind, like at a spiritually uplifting liturgy, family gatherings, ministering to seniors through music, travelling around the world…… Gratitude makes us joyful, for it is in giving that we receive.
Moments of joy that I remember well, were on a trip to the Grand Canyon during the 2002 March break. Arizona we thought would be warm and inviting. To our dismay, Flagstaff was colder than Toronto. That did not deter us from visiting the canyon, and exclaiming at this natural phenomenon, 277 miles long, 18 miles wide, and a mile deep. The Colorado river looked like a ribbon of water meandering below, while the rock formation reminded me of a colourful layered cake.
Our God is a God of surprises, because one evening we were lead to the Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona. We discovered a simple chapel built in the red rocks that looked like it was wedged in there. As we walked into the cool interior, I was handed a candle and introduced to my first Lenten Taize prayer service. Between the Scripture readings, the repetitive music, and the glow of the candles, I was transported into a spiritual world.
Sadly, we could not linger, because the service was over, and the sun was setting. If I was full of joy in the chapel, when I swung around to see the sunset, the shades of orange, red and yellow mesmerized me. The sun and clouds seemed to be dancing over the rock formations, and a smile lit my face, a clear sign of joy, a fruit of the Spirit.
Today, the risen Christ is inviting me to move from the fears of our present situation to the joy of transformation. I pray for the grace to be transformed by God as I journey towards the new Jerusalem. I sing joyfully “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice,” (Phil 4:4) as I mull over the fact that, as Richard Rohr says, “the joy that the world cannot give, always comes as a gift to those who wait for it, expect it, and make room for it inside themselves.”