A few months back The New York Times did a special section for one of its Sunday editions on the subject of JOY! Yes, full-throated, zany, frothy, essays by fourteen writers on how they are welcoming the gift of joy into their lives at this time. The editors seemed honestly intent on spreading what we recognize as a fruit of the Holy Spirit, a splendid by-product of our faith, confirmed, as the oil of the sacrament spread across our adolescent foreheads.
One writer gathered the “hairy butts of green onions” she had used in cooking a dinner and after putting them in a jar with a little water was surprised to see them reaching for sunlight the next morning. It has become a joy for her to reflect on maximizing every resource. And as each generation of new scallions take root on her windowsill, she says, “Each day they rebound a little more, oblivious to anything else but growth.” Another writer describes her new exercise of slow jogging as, “A great day for the race, the human race, at a contemplative pace.” Whether they are circling the block for exercise or saving a hurt baby pigeon, or trying lots and lots of recipes for fun, each writer expressed finding joy in the most unexpected ways, even in sorrow. As one of them concluded, “… when (sorrow) takes me in…I feel something breaking a little bit inside, and I think it is joy.”
Similarly, I believe joy is a moment when something is made complete within you. Nothing can crack this joy or lessen it. It surrounds a truth and springs it forward even in sorrow. Think of the time you witnessed a loved one appear who had been away for a long time. The sorrow is forgotten. The joy is indescribable and the family is made whole. Think of the joy a mother has when the newborn is placed in her arms. Indescribable. Joy comes from within and it is of the Spirit. Joy says you have found something, like all of the writers expressed in the The New York Times piece. You have found something you might never have even looked for, might never have noticed, might never have thought possible. Like green onions growing on your windowsill, like a wounded bird wobbling up your driveway, or the metric of age slowing your game, or the appearance of your child having made it home from Afghanistan.
Esau McCauley, professor of religion at Wheaton College, and his wife, decided to emphasize with their children the joy of being black. There was plenty of fearful news about racism they reasoned and so they wondered, “How do we balance the need to protect them from danger and let them be young and free?” They decided to teach their children to focus on black triumph over black suffering. They told them stories of Sojourner Truth, Martin Luther King, Jr, and other racially scorned heroes like Moses, the Israelites, Mary, the Mother of God. The oldest child picked a favorite saint, Athanasius, so named for his opposition to insurmountable foes because of his convictions. McCauley concluded, “We had given our children the gift that is often available to the young, the chance for uncomplicated joy.”
No matter how depressed or angry we may be with what this pandemic has done to each of us personally, if we stop and reflect on the gifts that matter, we will be led to some joy, no matter how brief.
Remember this: When you experience a moment of joy, you will reflect it to others and if possible, you will share it. That is why joy is a gift and a fruit of the Spirit. Look for joy in small things. This will lead to greater discoveries of joy which we so often take for granted.
I recommend we reflect on Jesus’ words to his disciples during his Last Discourse, only hours before his death. He said, “All this I tell you that my joy may be yours and your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11)