“I have a friend who is so deeply connected with God that he can see joy where I expect only sadness. He travels much and meets countless people. When he shares, he tells of the hidden joys he has found: someone who brought him hope and peace….little groups of people who are faithful to each other in the midst of turmoil….the small wonders of God. And I am disappointed sometimes because I want to hear ‘newspaper news’, exciting and exhilarating stories. But he never responds to my need for sensationalism. He just says, ‘I saw something very small and very beautiful, something that gave me much joy.'”
~ Henri Nouwen, Return of the Prodigal Son
In Days to Come…Great Joy. This is our church’s theme for Advent. Once again I am coming face to face with the concept that, once you begin to live into one of these themes, once you start thinking about a particular word or phrase, similar words begin to pop up everywhere. Which is what happened to me this morning when I opened a newsletter I receive monthly. This quote by the beloved priest Henri Nouwen was tucked in at the bottom of one of the pages. I shook my head and thought: ‘Here we go. Joy will be cropping up everywhere.” There certainly could be worse things, right?
Joy. What does this word mean to you? Is joy the same thing as happiness? How does one achieve joy? Or is there even really anything we can do to claim this rich three-lettered prize? I had this conversation with two friends yesterday. As we walked further and further into joy-talk, we probably had more questions than answers. We agreed that being ‘in pursuit’ of joy rarely works. It usually leads mostly to disappointment, a loss of something that never existed based on expectations that were created out of a deep longing. I think we agreed that joy comes to us….most often in the smallest events and through something over which we have very little control. But when joy makes its entrance, we know it.
On Sunday, I offered people small booklets that simply had the words ‘Great Joy’ on the cover. I invited people to make a note about the experiences in their day that had brought them joy, perhaps even great joy. I suggested that this could become a practice during Advent. To be present to the joy that comes our way every day….not just on the mountain top days like Christmas or our birthday. But every day. Writing down these moments of joy,I believe, could provide us with the opportunity to see where joy brushes past us bringing a blessing to the ordinary movements of our life. The journal of these blessings could also provide an opportunity to honor those moments and offer our gratitude to a Universe that longs to have delight in us.
Where have you experienced joy already in this day? This day which is a gift, never to be repeated? Perhaps if we are awake and aware of the joy that is already present in our own lives we might have the courage…..and it does take courage……to reach out and offer a joy-filled act to another. I am imagining a pyramid scheme that is actually a good thing, that actually brings benefit to all involved. Joy building on joy.
Sounds to me like a pretty good way to walk the days of Advent.