My younger son wakes with the first light of dawn. The rays cross his sleeping form so gently, their light still pale and grey. He bursts awake, full of life, and ready for the day. By contrast, his older brother sleeps until I come in and open the curtains, the light of the fully risen sun pouring across him, and inevitably, he rolls over with a scowl, moaning, “It’s too bright!”
Joy springs from deep within, pure and unadulterated and radiates outward. Serene, yet palpable is joy. While happiness is also palpable, it springs from the external. Joy, on the other hand, comes from within and is not dependent on external things. I believe I can choose to be happy, but I cannot choose to be joyous.
Joy seems to be a gift that comes with a grateful heart, often following times of putting God and others first. I find I discover joy at times of allowing myself to be led to—or by—God into selflessness by turning oneself over completely to the Divine.
I find joy is a grace bestowed on moments of unity with God. It is the ultimate sense of fulfillment. While joy is often associated with moments of happiness, it can also be found in challenging moments, or even moments of sadness.
“Absolutely all unmixed attention is prayer.” This quote, from French philosopher Simon Weil, succinctly expresses why spiritual companionship is a powerful and worthy exercise. At its root, spiritual direction is a form of deep attention—a prayer. Moreover, spiritual direction is precisely the form of prayer that contemporary culture increasingly lacks.
“The emergence of the internet is deeply related to an expanding sense of human discourse as open-ended, decentered, constantly under revision and centrifugal in its effects” Jerry Harp writes in his essay on apophatic theology and poetics. As human discourse multiplies, unmixed attention becomes increasingly rare. Harp goes on to clarify, “these effects are neither entirely inevitable, nor new.” And, I might add, not necessarily negative.
“We are called to intentional, deliberate vulnerability.” —Rule of the Northumbria Community
I don’t know what to do! I want to follow God, but I keep doubting and struggling! The deaf teen’s sign language was big and abrupt in her anger. There must be something wrong with me. Tears began to spill over as she signed. YOU never doubt or struggle, so I must just be messed up.
“How did the rose ever open its heart and give to this world all of its beauty? It feels the encouragement of Light against its being; otherwise we all remain too frightened.” —Hafiz, Love Poems from God, translated by Daniel Ladinsky
I adore this offering by the Persian poet Hafiz because it reminds me of our true nature, as well as what can happen when we forget or deny it. You are a rose and I am too—beings of great beauty. Our open and loving hearts are the expression of this beauty and all the “virtues of the spirit” to which we aspire.
"Somewhere along the way, I settled on this theory." My host is studying me with the intensity of a seer passing truth to the next generation, his long grey beard lending veracity to the image. "I have come to believe that this earth: the universe, the sky, the trees—us—we're all just one giant, ever-changing art project. When you think of it that way, it all finally makes sense." We talk deep into the night, this folk musician from an earlier generation and me, sharing stories and asking questions, many of which we know are without answer.
And don’t think the garden loses its ecstasy in winter. It’s quiet, but the roots down there are riotous. —Rumi
January in Southwest Minnesota is cold, dark, and covered in snow. The barren white landscape contrasts the lush greenery of corn and soybean fields in summer. Behind my house is a small backyard orchard with four apple trees, two pear trees, and a plum tree. In this season, my fruit trees are as barren and empty as the surrounding snow-covered fields.
December is the most miraculous time of year for me. It is a time that is filled with joy and laughter everywhere I turn, and that is exactly why I have feared this month.
I have not felt joy nor happiness when waking up in the morning in a long time. I have felt lonely and hopeless. I feared the thought of facing the energy that December holds because it felt impossible for me to be present with any sort of happy emotion. Everyone around me seems to suddenly be in a romantic relationship with people that adore them. I was afraid that I would see others being happy as proof of my loneliness and absolute misery.
Since the beginning of time, the grace of God has been showered upon us and risen up from within, extending beyond us. That is the beauty of grace. It is boundless and ever-present. Whether we recognize and behold it or not, it is always available. It finds us and waits patiently for us to be open and allow ourselves to be embraced or to bathe in it.