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Editorials

Commentary

Ian Adams

I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. John 15.11

A week rarely goes by for me without listening to Henryk Gorecki's Symphony of Sorrowful Songs. Within this piece, based on searing experiences of abandonment and death, is a tangible sense of hope within sadness. Gorecki's sublime composition suggests that even death cannot hold back the human and divine spirit. It seems to suggests that joy may be deeper than both loss and finding, stronger than desolation or happiness. Joy is a stance for all of life, a way to live that we can choose to pursue and nurture.

Joy is not based on things going right, or even well. Joy is not to be found on the other side of difficulty. The other side of difficulty is a good place to find ourselves - but that's not joy. The other side of difficulty is a temporary state of being with things going as we would like them to. It's lovely, but it's temporary. Nor is joy is the opposite of sorrow. The kind of experiences that produce sorrowful poems are a companion to joy! To truly experience joy we need to give ourselves to the experience of sorrow. Joy and sorrow are both about receiving life as it comes, accepting the darknesses, looking for the light, and sensing in them both the ultimate goodness of existence.

The experience of the contemplative stream is that joy is never far away; in fact it is welling up within us if only we will allow it to grow, and let our joylessness diminish. It's a gift that we discover, not something we create. It can only be received, lived, and given away. And it can - and perhaps must - be found in the most toughest of times and loneliest of places.

Towards the end of John's Gospel there's an intimate series of passages in which the writer describes Jesus speaking in very personal terms to the disciples. These sayings are probably gathered from a series of remembered conversations and teachings from the latter part of Jesus' life, a period in which he is increasingly coming under threat. The immediate context in the Gospel is his imminent arrest and execution. So it might be surprising to find Jesus talking about joy. But his focus on joy is right here, woven through his forecast of being betrayed, his recognition of the Disciples' fearful bewilderment, his sense of the world's capacity for hatred, and his recognition of the pain and sorrow that will soon come to them all. 'I have said these things to you', says Jesus, 'so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.' Joy is to be found alongside, and maybe even within, the sorrow that comes our way.

For Jesus a life of joy emerges from an experience of loving and being loved. 'As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you: abide in my love.' This experience of love is not dependent on the love of another single human being (although that can be a beautiful way in which this love is mediated). The love here is the love that permeates all that exists: the good earth, the benevolent cosmos, and the community of God who is love. Joy emerges from our experience of loving and being loved.

So it will be hard to live from our joy if we have lost our capacity or memory for love, or if we persistently allow love's opposite - fear - to shape us. I'm curious about the capacity we have for nurturing the opposites of joy. Hurt can have a strange attraction. We can find ourselves nurturing feelings of rejection, fuelling our hurt and suppressing our joy. It's important to recognize that Joy is about movement rather than achievement.

It's a daily call to face and move in another direction away from fear, and to refuse to fuel our sense of being hurt. Some days this will feel very hard, other days it may all seem much more simple. So resolve each day to live from your joy, as far as you can. It's important not to be down on ourselves if we sense that this is slow to happen. And to recognize that our joy may not always conform to common perceptions. Joy can be quiet, sometimes experienced as just a slight shift within us. But there may well be moments too when joy bursts from us. When those exuberant moments come, let them loose!

 

This is an abridged version of a piece from Adams' Running Over Rocks, available now from Canterbury Press.