Last week we spoke about the Deep Mystery of Sacred Sadness. The deep and profound sorrow of God is always accompanied by the light and effortless joy of God. The Divine speaks so concisely through joy – so perfectly. Joy is a universal language. All people and animals alike can understand it. Whether you speak Mandarin, Anishinaabemowin, Icelandic, Shona, or Arabic you know the meaning of a smile. You can instantly relate with any person of any age, from any culture around the world with a simple grin or a single tear for these are the language of God. The language she has imprinted upon the very souls of every creature she has created. Your dog knows when you are happy or upset though it may have no idea why. An infant knows the hearts of the people around her and she can easily convey her feelings though she lacks the words to define them.
But truly no words are needed to define the language of emotion for it is the purest language of all. And so it is the language that best conveys our prayers to God. God doesn’t need to know what your next scheme is to rid yourself of sorrow, she just needs to hear your tears. She does not need lengthy explanations for all the reasons you are joyful, she only needs to hear your laughter. For God hears more in 30 seconds of passionate crying than she does in an hour of eloquent prayer and speech. If you can look at a sunset and experience a deep and intimate love for the beauty of it, even just for a fleeting moment, God will hear your gratitude louder than a thousand choirs singing songs of praise in the most magnificent cathedral – because gratitude is an inward affair and not something that can be replicated by formulaic actions. The same may be said for joy, it is a feeling, it is not something that you can fake, you cannot simply say I have joy and make it so or put on a smile and make everything ok.
Have you ever had a friend tell you they were fine while tears welled up in their eyes? Did you give more credence to their words or to their reddened eyes? I think that so many people hide their pain behind their words, they keep face. But the pain only festers, it is hidden but not dealt with. If we do not transform our pain it only grows and worsens and eventually we pass it on to those around us. But when we experience it and allow it to run its course we transform our relationship with it to one of joy. In fact, I might even go so far as to say that joy can only arise from sorrow. Joy is a transformation: it is night turned to day, it is hatred turned to love, it is freedom gained from oppression, it is Jesus suffering and dying only to be resurrected, it is the promise of eternal life after a lifetime of hardship and perseverance. As it is written in the book of John:
When a woman is giving birth,
she has sorrow because her hour has come
but when she has delivered the baby,
she no longer remembers the anguish,
for the joy that a human being has been born into the world.
There is no birth without pain and we cannot be liberated without first being down trodden. But what is this process that transforms us from sorrow to joy? What is it within ourselves that can change to make us feel joy in the same environment in which we previously felt sorrow? For it is not an external shift that liberates us from sorrow, but an internal one. It is within the human heart that sorrow and joy are formed and it has little to do with external influence. We know that people who are griped with sorrow will not transform just because we place them in pleasant circumstances. And there are those people whose joy is so strong that they maintain it through times of intense hardship.
We have two levels of emotion: one that runs deep and is the foundation of our hearts and one which flows on the surface and changes with the situation around us. A person in the depths of depression might still laugh at a joke and a person with the deepest joy will still weep in a tragedy. But underneath these responses to outward circumstances lies a core of being which has more to do with our relationship to God than it does with what is happening around us. It takes longer to be affected than our surface emotions and it is the underlying current to which we default when the storms of life are calm. It is in this deeper current that true joy flows and it is here we must focus our attention.
One of the greatest sorrows of our time is that people have lost the ability to be amazed by the beauties of creation. Just as the finest painting is admired for the intricacy and beauty of its detail so the magnificence of God’s creation shows her mastery by the immense beauty in the subtle details of life. The shear splendour of a stream rippling over a rock, the sound of children playing in the forest, the taste of a ripe tomato picked from the vine, the smell of spring when the Earth begins to thaw, the way moonlight reflects off the snow in an open field, the curiosity and bravery of the tiniest humming bird, crocuses in the spring, roses in the summer, and the breath taking array of colours in the autumn.
I could go on forever but it is in the appreciation for and awareness of these finer details that our transformation, our liberation, may begin. So often we walk past immense beauty without even so much as a glimmer of appreciation. We live in and are a part of the finest work of art ever produced and yet we muddle our way through it grumbling and complaining.
If we wish our core to be a place of joy we must see God all around us in these beautiful little wonders, for joy is nothing more than the realization of God and sorrow is nothing more than a sense of distance from him. I really like the words of Brother Ali, a Muslim hip hop artist, when he described this universal language of joy and the power of realizing the beauty in a sunrise:
Somethin’ magical happen when them hands get to clappin’
Can you tell me what language do you laugh in?
The human reaction of smiles and cries
What language are the tears when they’re fallin’ from your eyes?
You’ve probably seen a sunrise hundreds of times
But let a painter paint it or a poet describe
The very moment where Heaven and Earth might collide
And God let the breath of life come outside
Check out the whole song below
You can look at a sunrise with conventional eyes and see some colours and a regular occurrence that happens every morning, or you can look at it with the eyes of a poet and see the collision of Heaven and Earth and God’s life pouring out into the world. The difference is in the person viewing, not in the sunrise. Joy and sorrow are our own reactions to a world which is simultaneously beautiful and ugly; a world which has both pleasure and pain, cruelty and compassion, apathy and loving intention.
In this world we can choose to seek God or we can choose to see a bland world of meaningless circumstances where cause and effect bounce around randomly without any form or intention. But it is in searching for and finding God that joy enters into the core of our hearts, it is in the search for her that we overcome sorrow and in the realization of her in the smallest blade of grass that we replace it with joy.
For there is a great paradox in the search for God. If we were to imagine that we had found her in entirety then we would cease to search and our joy would become stagnant. But if we search endlessly without ever finding her we will grow hopeless and sorrow will seep into our hearts. So the paradox is this: we must simultaneously search for God while knowing that we have already found her in everything around us.
Like a child on a treasure hunt we should be excited to turn over every rock, to look behind every tree, to explore every nook and cranny for signs of God, and like an old man at the end of his days and content with his life we may sit on the porch and be glad to know that we have all we could ever need, we have accomplished what we were sent to do and be content with what we have. We must never cease searching for that which we have found all around us. And in this paradox we will fill our hearts with joy on the deepest level. Of course those surface emotions will always waver as the trials and tribulations of life continue, but underneath them we will have an infinite well of joy to draw from and life will be beautiful beyond measure!
Since joy is the universal language if we make it the foundation of our lives we gain an appreciation for and an ability to communicate with others that is founded on deep understanding. With joy in your heart you can look in to the eyes of any person and make a meaningful connection. They will see your joy and feel comfortable and welcomed by you. Your joy can be a disarming force that eases the tensions of others and works to create peace all around you.
It is a beautiful gift from God that your own joy can be a blessing for others. That you can do great good in the world simply by finding joy in the environment around you is a glorious win-win situation that everyone should actively pursue. What greater gift could God give us than to make our greatest purpose to be filled with Joy? What further evidence of God’s love could you ever ask for than to know that joy is what she intended you to be?
That joy is all around you and inside you is proof of God’s love and all we need to do is embrace it wholeheartedly and see the world with a poetic wonder that finds deep meaning in simple things; that sees the most beautiful face of God in the young and old alike, in the handsome and the plain, in the clever and the simple, in mountains and valleys, in mist filled mornings and bright noon days, in hard work and relaxation, in adventure and quiet evenings at home.
In everything all around you see God and be filled with joy at the beauty that is creation. Sorrow is a construct of our minds and is easily disposed of when life is embraced and hesitation is replaced with exuberance and enthusiasm. Be enthusiastic to live this beautiful life God has created for you and you will know joy. And that, my dear friends, is the purpose of this fleeting time we have on Earth. That is why we are here. Joy is the meaning of life.
If you enjoyed this article, please share it on your favourite social media or leave a comment below. If you want to learn more about Celtic Christianity and Contemplation, check out some of the free videos from our virtual retreat: Sacred Spaces: Contemplation and the Celtic Spirit.