Joy – according to an old song is ‘Jesus first, Yourself last, and Others in between.’
How I hated that song!
My dictionary defines joy as ‘a condition or deep feeling of pleasure or delight; happiness; gladness’.
Joy – a strange word with which, from time to time, I’ve had a precarious relationship.
Possibly because it’s my given name. There have been times I knew in my deepest being the name didn’t fit who and what I experienced myself to be.
As a teenager, I remember asking my mother, ’Why on earth did you ever call me Joy?’
Her reply, ‘Because you were – once!’ haunted me until my late forties when I was helped to work through the related issues.
At one stage I even considered changing my name by deed poll. The only problem was – I had no idea what to change it to. Fortunately, over more recent years, I’ve been growing into it.
Another factor in my discomfort was that – until my mid-thirties – ‘I’d never really accepted my humanity’. These words were revealed to me during a Eucharist where I prayed for healing after cancer. Those words, unspoken yet so clear, reverberated through my being – bearing undeniable truth.
I always had a strong sense of pre-existence; of having come reluctantly into this life from a place or state of absolute harmony, unity and peace. During that Eucharist, the realization that being human meant not separation from God but sharing in the being of God who also became human – was for me the beginning not only of acceptance but of a sense of joy in the possibility of becoming Joy.
As I understand it now, joy is more than a transitory experience of ‘pleasure; delight; happiness or gladness’ but rather a deep underlying sense of being blessed – one which pervades all of life regardless of circumstances and which nothing and no-one can take away.
Blessed in being part of this amazing cosmos of life-giving energy and transformation at a time when we are privileged to be able to explore, see, and understand it in ways we have never been able to before. Blessed in being one with all that is – seen and unseen – for I share the same cosmic energy vibrating in every sub-atomic particle of my being.
This blessing is heightened in those occasional gifted moments of sheer ecstasy when I experience, once again, the ‘home’ I left behind – that total unity and harmony with everything. One with the birds gliding in the air as well as with the air supporting them; one with the ground or couch beneath me and with the clouds floating above’ one with every colour, every sound (whether melodic or grating) and one with the stillness and the silence beyond them all,
One with every human being, even those I don’t like.
Blessed being able to wonder what the energy that’s now me was before it was me – and what it might become by further transformation when I leave this life. Blessed in the understanding that even the worst of the destruction wrought by humankind releases energy for transformation into something potentially life-giving and beyond our imagination.
My heart, on the surface, may be battered and bruised by the storms of news reports and the events of daily life, but those storms are unable to penetrate to the depths where deep calm prevails and I rejoice to sing and dance with folk like Gerard Manley Hopkins who, in his poem, God’s Grandeur (1877), reflects on the destruction of the environment before declaring:
‘And for all of us,
nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things’
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward springs –
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.’
Or with Julian of Norwich (1342 – 1416?) in the certainty that in spite of evidence to the contrary – ultimately:
‘All shall be well; and all shall be well;
and all manner of thing shall be well.’
Is this what is meant by ‘the joy of salvation’?
Image Joy, Rick Lord
(This article was first published in Refresh, the Journal of Contemplative Spirituality - Winter 2019)