What a joy it is to see smiling people’s faces again! After more than a year of isolation, fear and compassion via covering ourselves, we are beginning to open up and uncover our faces and breathe freely once again. COVID hospitalizations and deaths among the vaccinated are bottoming out, and there is a palpable delight in the streets of our city. People are making music in person again, neighbors are exchanging homegrown vegetables and home-baked cookies again, and hugs are lasting far longer than would have been deemed reasonable by 2019 standards! Parties are inching back, concerts are on the horizon and summer feels like summer again. The world is starting to spin on its axis once more.
Most months I dedicate the space in this politics and spirituality column to some issue of injustice and struggle to eke out a modicum of guidance from various wisdom and spiritual traditions for how to survive with one’s soul intact amidst all manner of structural evil. But this month, even though there is plenty of misery in our world that is worthy of confronting … this month, I want to surrender to joy.
In the Bible, joy is called one of the “fruits of the Spirit.” Theologically, it is distinguished from happiness because it emerges not from a momentary pleasure but from a deeper well of satisfaction. Joy is soul deep, not skin deep. It sits inside the inner chambers of our being and is less assailable by the arrows of daily frustration and less vulnerable to the sting of daily disappointments than happiness is. Joy builds more slowly and falls more heavily. Happiness is a ripple on the pond from a tossed stone. Joy a great swell stretching itself upon the open ocean.
But joy is not easy to access for all of us. While happiness and sadness are related, joy’s sibling is sorrow. For many, the shared sorrow that so many have felt in these past 16-plus months is giving way to shared joy. It can be frightening to invite joy to come play, because you know their sibling will eventually come over, too. Also, many people are taught that they have no right to joy unless everyone else has it first. This is especially true for activists, those who do caring or healing work and people in marginalized groups. The author bell hooks (who uses lowercase letters when spelling her name) is a queer Black woman from a rural area, and she expresses this point well: “I often find it easier to be teaching or giving to others, and often struggle with the place of my own pleasure and joy.”
The pandemic emphasized care for others, which is a marvelous thing! But may we never fully trade in self-love for a greater capacity to love others. You are deserving of joy and delight. May we together surrender in this season to love, pleasure and joy, come what may.
Rev. John Helmiere is the convener of Valley & Mountain in South Seattle.
Read more of the July 14-20, 2021 issue.