Ode to Joy

“The anonymous author of the following quote turns the traditional image of spirituality on its head: “God and the angels will hold you accountable for all the joys you were allowed in life that you denied yourself.”

Instead of the solemn face of the saint or the figure of a renunciate lost in contemplation, he gives us the image of joy as the gateway to heaven. The experience of joy in this world is an indication that our spirit is shining brightly. Joy is an expression of our deepest nature, beyond all notions of right and wrong, beyond all dogma and belief, beyond any religious framework… Joy is a pure expression of the human spirit.”

Allowing ourselves to experience joy is no easy task when a pandemic, racial inequities/injustice, global warming, terrorism, and other weighty issues are so viscerally on our minds and hearts. There is so much to be sad and mad about, that joy seems like the last thing that can or should be front and center. But if poet Roger Housden and the anonymous author he quotes are correct, “joy is an expression of our deepest nature” and is therefore too important to lose touch with, too close to the bone of who we are as human/spiritual beings.

It is not only spirituality that gets turned upside down when joy is considered something to embrace, for the conventional wisdom of our time and culture clearly prioritizes the likes of seriousness, logic, responsibility, and hard work. Joy may be the “gateway to heaven,” but a frown not a smile is the sign that we are earnest citizens of the earth.

True joy is not the opposite of accountability, dependability, and other elements of maturity; it is not a Pollyanna-like outlook, but a radical quality of character, an unquenchable vitality, enthusiasm, and passion for life that the French refer to as joie de vivre. Joy is more a matter of choice than feeling; we can choose to be joyful even in the amidst life’s difficulties and demands.

Joy is what we can experience when we are connected to the sacred depth that poet Robert Frost refers to when he says “We dance ‘round in a ring and suppose. But the secret sits in the middle and knows.” The “secret” at the heart of who we are and that is present even when we don’t feel it, is that Divinity is the D in our DNA; God by whatever name is our essence. If instead of keeping this “secret” a secret we gave ourselves permission to live it, joy might just help us remain positive and hopeful in the midst of life’s very real and often dire circumstances.


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