The moment was overwhelmingly surreal as all of my senses were in complete overdrive. And then as if someone threw a glass of ice cold water on my face I became laser fixated on the whaling sound that was now the totality of my reality. Moving swiftly in the direction of that which the high pitch noise was emanating from I opened my mouth without any forethought and softly said, “It’s okay, Buddy.” Immediately my new born son stopped crying. It was in that moment I felt complete and utter joy.
“Joy is not the same as happiness. Happiness is triggered externally – when things are going well, when life is good. But joy, it seems to me, comes from within. You can know joy even in the most appalling circumstances. Joy comes from within, and Paul tells us that joy is a gift from God, one of the gifts of the Spirit – a gift which is there for the asking.” – friend and colleague Brother Geoffrey Tristram, SSJE
I was grateful when on retreat with Br. Geoffrey he shared his musings on the distinction between joy and happiness. Being happy, finding happiness is a good thing. Joy is a soul thing. Joy has the power to transform us. And that differentiation is critical. As Sister Macrina Wiederkehr, OSB, reminds us, “A most helpful discovery is that right in the midst of our sorrows there is always room for joy. Joy and sorrow are siblings; they live in the same house.”
When we find ourselves held in the grip of suffering and sorrow – with the utmost respect to Bobby
McFerrin – “Don’t Worry, Be happy” does not have the gravitas to provide light in the darkness. Joy is the manifestation of light, because the very essence of joy is love. Healing, hope, joy are gifts of love. And it is through loving that we will experience that which is deep within each of us. In expressing love to my new born son in that moment, we were both transformed in joy with an abiding love. It is the experience the great mystic Julian of Norwich describes as, “The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything.”
As Christmas draws near, we will once again hear the holy words, “And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” In these challenging times may we, too, fully embrace the joy that dwells deeply in each of us.