This month, I invite you to be a student of joy, to study joy as closely as you might read a textbook or follow the news or learn a new skill. What happens when we decide to make joy the focus of our congregational life together? Smiles and laughter, I suspect, but also strength and solidarity and spiritual growth.
Over the last few years, I have been trying to become a studier, a noticer, of joy. This began in the early days of the pandemic, when I became cut off from so many sources of joy – a meal in a restaurant, the library, singing with others.
Noticing—and creating—moments of joy became part of my survival strategy, part of what I needed to get through each impossible day.
Joy is not the absence of pain or loss or heartbreak. For me, joy is not the absence of pain; joy and pain often occur simultaneously. Taking pleasure in a beautiful sunset made extra beautiful from wildfire smoke is a spiritual discipline for our time. We cannot postpone joy to a moment when there is no pain; that moment might never come. We are in a beautiful, bewildering, broken world – and we need to feel all of this.
So, for September, notice your joy. Where do you find it? How do you seek it? What joys surprise you? In our services beginning on September 10, we will explore sources of joy: community, creativity, animals, self-expression. Come and practice joy together. Let me know what you discover – I’ll be preaching on joy in October, and I would love to share your learnings with the congregation.
As you begin your study of joy, I offer two passages from books that have been helpful guides to me:
‘True pleasure—joy, happiness and satisfaction—has been the force that helps us move beyond the constant struggle, that helps us live and generate futures beyond this dystopic present, futures worthy of our miraculous lives. Pleasure—embodied, connected pleasure—is one of the ways we know when we are free. That we are always free. That we always have the power to co-create the world. Pleasure helps us move through the times that are unfair, through grief and loneliness, through the terror of genocide, or days when the demands are just overwhelming. Pleasure heals the places where our hearts and spirits get wounded. Pleasure reminds us that even in the dark, we are alive. Pleasure is a medicine for the suffering that is absolutely promised in life.’ – from Pleasure Activism by adrienne maree brown
My hunch is that joy is an ember for or precursor to wild and unpredictable and transgressive and unboundaried solidarity. And that that solidarity might incite further joy. Which might incite further solidarity. And on and on. My hunch is that joy, emerging from our common sorrow—which does not necessarily mean we have the same sorrows, but that we, in common, sorrow—might draw us together. It might depolarize us and de-atomize us enough that we can consider what, in common, we love. And though attending to what we hate in common is too often all the rage (and it happens also to be very big business), noticing what we love in common, and studying that, might help us survive. It’s why I think of joy, which gets us to love, as being a practice of survival.’ – from Inciting Joy by Ross Gay
Enjoy your studies, let me know what you learn,