Wednesday, October 6, 2021
Katie Snipes Lancaster
Likewise the spirit helps us in our weakness;
for we do not know how to pray as we ought,
but that very spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.
A Look at Joy
The things we do to distract ourselves from grief by imitating joy—drinking to forget, impulsive shopping, Netflix binging, one-night stands—these self-medicating actions are only a shallow approximation of joy, or counterfeit joys, because they attempt to sidestep, rather than enter into, the pain and grief of life. But the concept of joy connotes something beyond merely existing or surviving. Joy carries with it the connotation of living fully—and in order to live fully, we have to live in our pain. Karl Barth writes, “Joy is an intensification, strengthening, deepening, and elevation of the whole awareness of life which as such is necessarily more than joy”—with the implication that joy also opens us to grief.
Through scripture, joy takes as its starting point—and does not shy away from acknowledging—the reality of suffering and injustice in the world. In light of life’s futility and finitude, the book of Ecclesiastes finds meaning in the simple enjoyment of everyday gifts; the New Testament reframes joy in light of the lordship of Jesus, the hope of which transforms our experience of the present. Scripture makes space for complexity of emotion, and so must we.
Justin E. Crisp says it well: “Joy is neither an ideological opiate serving to placate and pacify the dispossessed”—overly eschatological—”nor a sentiment as fragile as garden—variety happiness”—overly existential…. Joy roots us firmly in the present moment while also reminding us that the present is being, and will be, transformed by the resurrection of Christ. Joy enables us to receive the gifts of God with gratitude, while also inviting us to long for redemption. Joy helps us lament injustice, while also giving us hope to carry on.
(Excerpted from “Finding Joy in an Unjust World” by Lauren Calvin Cooke, The Journal of Youth Ministry, Spring 2019).
God, you speak to us and through us
with sighs too deep for words.
You know our counterfeit joys
and our authentic hope
and embodied delight.
Be with us today as we seek
to deepen our awareness
of our own embodied longings,
and help us to see your divine spark within.