Sunday, December 17, 2017

Spirituality as Resistance: Joy

It has always been one of the core beliefs of my faith that resistance to the world’s ways is at the heart of the Judeo-Christian ethic. It may also be at the heart of other faiths, but this is the one I know best and am steeped in. Between now and Epiphany Sunday on January 7 I will take one of the traditional themes of the season and relate it to our present day resistance to some difficult and troubling things happening around us. I don't believe we are to withdraw from the world, but rather engage with the world (in, not of the world) with the Word in mind.

 3rd Sunday of Advent 
December 17, 2017
Joy as Resistance

 Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.
― Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Joy, according to one dictionary entry is:
the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires : delight.
Have you watched some of the people making pronouncements these days? Is there joy there? Do they exude joy or seem to suck it right out of the atmosphere? People of all persuasions try to persuade me to be happy or joyful while looking anything but. Ads for the many great and wondrous medications make life look amazing while the voiceover (or voice-under?) tells us all the things that could go wrong.

May God protect me from gloomy saints.
--Saint Teresa of Avila

How in the world can we talk about “joy” as a way of spiritual resistance? What is the role of “joy” in standing up to the powers of the world? How does “joy” make a revolutionary statement to confront the powers and principalities? Just remembering political (or advertising) campaigns would give a hint, I think. Much of what passes for political discourse or advertising wants to build on the supposed fact that we are not currently experiencing “joy.” All we need to do to turn our current sad and depressed state of affairs around is to elect the right politician, support the right party, buy the newest, latest and best product. Think about the longing face desiring their dreams to come true under the Christmas tree. THEN, we will find “joy.”

The “joy” we talk about at Advent and beyond is not that type of joy. It is not about acquiring or having a particular theology or ideology. It is something internal, something that can be who we are.

The website Theopedia defines joy this way:
Joy is a state of mind and an orientation of the heart. It is a settled state of contentment, confidence and hope.
That begins to take us in a different direction. We are now in the area of contemplation and mystery. We are entering the territory of mindfulness and meditation, perhaps even the mystical. We are heading toward a joy that is intuitive and the result of the “hope” and “love” we have already discussed. Perhaps “joy” comes from living a life based on hope that is made real in “love.”

One of the other things about us humans is that we look on “emotional” words like “joy” as if they are these great and overwhelming feelings. We are inundated by information and noise and people and things that in order to feel any of these things they, too, have to be overwhelming and big and loud. We don’t know it’s joy unless it is over the top ecstasy. We don’t know it’s real unless it can break through the clutter of noise and distractions to get our attention in the first place. Joy is not loud and boisterous, although it can be. Joy is not fireworks alone. It is also that awareness of something greater that is both around us and within us as a quiet sunset over the Gulf of Mexico or the wonder of a sleeping child.

It is a state of mind - the openness to see it; and an orientation of the heart- the aiming of our soul toward the very source of joy.

M. Ahlers, in the book 50 Things to Know About Practicing Spiritual Discipline, puts it this way:
Joy is a choice based on being content regardless of circumstances. Understanding what encourages joy in your life can help you cultivate it and build up your resources for when circumstances are difficult.
Yes, I can choose to be filled with joy, content no matter what. It also means to cultivate the things that bring joy into my life, which will in turn increase and enhance the joy I am able to be aware of.

The radical nature of joy is beginning to be revealed. The revolutionary attitude to be content regardless of circumstances can confront the ways of the world around us and say a clear “No!” to those calls to our lesser nature; to the desire to separate us from our brothers and sisters based on color or creed or country of origin; to the victimizing of others so that we can have joy even at their expense since they are the ones keeping us from having joy. There is a promise inherent in joy that if we live with the hope that life is worth it and that love of even the so-called enemy is essential- something unique and powerful will happen within us.

Advent is a time of patience, though, since this does not happen overnight. Rumi, the wondrous Muslim mystic and poet wrote:
If you are wholly perplexed and in straits, have patience, for patience is the key to joy
Impatience is what the ways of the world feed on-
  • impatience with how slowly we are getting ahead,
  • impatience with having to wait to get what we think we need or deserve,
  • impatience that leads to seeking instant gratification,
  • impatience that kills joy, and
  • impatience that allows the world to call us away from hope and love into a joyless uncertainty.

But Rumi adds,
When you feel a peaceful JOY, that's when you are near truth.
Moving from hope to love and into joy brings us closer to the truth that thaws of the world are not necessarily the final answer. In fact that movement into joy moves us to a place closer to the truths that are greater than we are, the truths that transcend religion and race, ideology or nationalism. We Christians can point to Jesus as being “the way and the truth” but that is our experience. Many others have experienced the same truth in myriad ways. Even Christians, if we are honest with ourselves, know that we have found joy, true joy as we have discovered the truths of life in hope and love in many non-religious but highly spiritual ways.

When you feel joy, the truth is near (Rumi)

And, the truth can set you free (Jesus).

The journey of Advent as resistance reminds us again that it is not in the political or ideological or materialistic or even religious ways that truth will be found. We don’t have to give in to the siren calls around us, or the “dog-whistle” pronouncements that reinforce hate or discrimination. Truth is not to be found there.

Live in hope
Love unconditionally
Joy will guide you into truth.

The journey continues.

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