Joyful, joyful we adore thee…
By Scott Baker
One of the fruits of the Spirit that has always puzzled me is the fruit of joy. The reason for my puzzlement has been the struggle to differentiate joy from happiness. The Declaration of Independence speak about people being endowed by their Creator with the unalienable rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” but nothing about joy. Over the years I’ve spent no small amount of time trying to see how the two are different. I’ve succeeded in scratching the surface but by no means plumbing the depths entirely.
Throughout the Bible, and especially the New Testament, joy is a theme that crops up time and time again. The Psalmist longs for joy. “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, then were we like those who dream. Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy.” Psalm 126:1-2
Paul alludes to the fact that self-fulfilled joy is almost out of our ability but rather, is a gift from God that ranks right alongside of love as a gift from God.
Some years ago, I had an epiphany regarding joy. The epiphany was that God longs for us to be joyful. God wishes for our joy. This insight was so foreign to how I was raised and what I had been taught by the Christian denomination of my youth. With this insight, I began to wonder how I could be more mindful and aware of the joy in my life? The pathway that led me to a greater sense of joy was somewhat unusual. The pathway was paved with the stepping-stones of gratitude. When I opened my heart and my eyes to the beauty of the world and the gift of the people in my life the result was a greater sense of joy. This way of viewing the world became so ingrained that I would give thanks for the warm water of a shower, even for the water heater that made it possible. Weird, I know, but I began to see the little things in my life that I had taken for granted for so long.
When I began to turn my attention to them, to hallow them with my awareness if you will, the result was a growing sense of joy. This didn’t happen overnight, but was a process, practice and discipline that took months and months to cultivate. Of course, some days were better than others. However, over a period of time, not only did I grow more grateful, I also grew more joyful. As we turn the corner of the 10th month of COVID-19, I can think of no better time to cultivate the practice of gratitude, which nurtures a joyful spirit. In the wake of what is arguably one of the worst years we’ve all experienced, I can think of no greater need than to grasp joy wherever we can.
I ran across a quotation some years ago that said, “God is vehemently against anything that thwarts our joy.” God longs for us to be joyful. And it dawned on me that joy is the underground aquifer out of which happiness bubbles up. Joy is the abiding sense of contentment and well being from which happiness springs. The spring may not always bubble but the water feeding it is always there.
FATHER SCOTT BAKER is the pastor of Emmanuel Episcopal Church. Contact him at 757-562-4542.