When the peace of God surpasses all understanding....
Having joy can be a funny thing. Some folks assume that in order to express joy, you need to be happy. At the least, you should be in a favorable mood, yes? If we make joy dependent on happiness, or align it with feelings of comfort, satiety, safety, and security, then joy becomes something that is both as fleeting and dependent on forces outside our selves as all those latter states ultimately are, at core. Joy is something that rises from a place that is deeper than anything that depends on factors exterior to our being.
I have known joy when safety and security are scarce. I played two hard contact sports growing up, and both soccer and rugby were sources of great joy for me. They were not safe, and both offered little security. I trained in a martial art for over a decade, and I guarantee that there was little safety or security on the mat, even though the sensei and my training partners were as mindful as we could be most of the time. All of these environments were extremely high risk, and I have the old injuries and scars to prove that even being careful does not preserve one from enduring harm. Still, the sports I played and the art I practiced were and in memory now still are sources of supreme joy.
I have also known the deep assurance of joy when far from feeling comfortable. Going to the bedside of the sick, the dying and attending to the dead and their bereaved is not comfortable. A person may offer comfort to those who are bereaved, but even then we must admit there is little comfort in the moment when illness or dying are at their height. There is little comfort in those first moments of loss...and yet, even in the face of death, I have known the joy of being faithful to the people I am called to serve. Not long ago, in the very earliest hours of a day, I returned home from attending a death in my parish. My heart was broken and full of grief. Even in that moment of loss, though, I knew the joy of having been able to be there for someone in need, to say the prayers and to shepherd someone through the loss of a beloved parent.
Joy is not happiness.
Joy is the awareness that you are standing at the center of your existence, in right relationship with all around you and with your creator. It is an awareness that you could be no where else, with no one else, in any other moment that to be here and now and with those who complete your joy, and whose joy is made complete by being in relationship with you. You could be standing in the eye of a hurricane and know joy, if those previous factors are in place. You could be safe as houses and NOT know joy if those relationships noted are broken. Joy is a relationship that is full and fulfilled.
This pause in Advent is called Gaudete Sunday. The name is a Latin word for "Rejoice!" and the day was intended as a respite from the dour nature of a penitential season. It marks a pause in the progression we are making through this season of anticipation and preparation. We are commanded to draw to a stop in our march, to be HERE and NOW while experiencing joy. That joy comes from being in a right relationship with God, and to seek a right relationship with each other.
The prospect of joy, real joy, is one that should nearly rend us. What would it mean to you in your daily walk through life, in all your worries and concerns and cares, to pause and rejoice? If that pause is one we are open to, then can thanksgiving to God be far behind? I have known times when I have had little more to be joyful for than to be able to continue to breathe. Believe me, when I was made aware of that truth, the next breath was a heartfelt prayer of thanksgiving to God that I had breath in me. That was a moment of the purest joy, one of the greatest I have even known.
So, I ask you....what is your joy? What makes that joy complete and what completes that joy in the people around you?
Do those things, and continue to do them....and give thanks to God while rejoicing in that joy which is a peace that truly passes all understanding.