Joy

I rambled recently on Facebook about Christmas, and how I feel that I might be a Christmas kind o’gal at heart. I realized tonight what it is that led me to that reflection, what it is that I am experiencing this week: joy!

This has caught me by some surprise, as I hadn’t quite realized I’d been lacking it, but of course: the past few years and Christmasses have been quite hard. Each holiday I feel keenly the absence of one of my dear children at some point. Although not chronically miserable and even at times happy, I had lost joy.

I am a joyful person! I had not realized. Without joy, I am not myself. What a wonderful thing to discover about oneself! But it is not just true of me: it is the same for everyone! Even the most Ebenezer Scroogiest among us!

This is what I love about Christmas: the total abandonment to joy! Untarnished, unblemished by any cynicism, pure, innocent joy!

Clearly, not every Christmas is joyful to all people. One learns as a child, to one’s astonishment, that one can feel quite contrary to the intended spirit of the special occasion being celebrated, just as the weather can be wretched rather than gay. The past few Christmasses, though happy, have been coloured by grief and anxiety, and I cannot describe my heart as having been joyful.

There is a levity to joy. It is this levity that sets it apart from mere happiness, I think. When one is happy, one’s feet, as it were, remain on the ground. When one is joyful, one is levitating, at least interiorly. My favourite depiction of joy in a movie is from the 1951 A Christmas Carol starring Alastair Sim:

Ebenezer [grumpily]  I don’t deserve to be so happy.

[starts laughing uncontrollably again] 

Ebenezer I can’t help it!

When joyful, we forget ourselves. We lose or renounce the control we typically enforce on our lives: the worries we have about how we might be perceived by others, about whether we are living up to our own standards, about living up to the Idea of Oneself that one has decided one ought to be. If we are uptight, anxious, fearful, or controlling in any way, we cannot be truly joyful. To be joyful, we must lose ourselves in God. And perhaps it will manifest itself in smiles–it certainly does with me, or at least a softening of my face. And there is an excitement in joy, the same sort of excitement the multitude of the heavenly host stirred up when they praised God in the fields, saying “Glory to God in the highest!” When I am joyful, my heart is united with that heavenly host stretched across the vast field, praising God. There is also a deep and intimate aspect to joy, as intimate and ineffable as a mother’s love for her baby.

And true joy is rooted in love. Sometimes we get a taste of joy in our relationships with people. I look upon my husband, or think about a friend who is very close to my heart, and I know joy. The deepest joy, however, is when I turn that gaze towards the Lord in my heart. I smile at Him, knowing He is smiling at me, who is totally unworthy of His smiles.

Joy! Joy is known at Easter, too, but in a more glorious and mature way. Joy at Christmas is so simple, so innocent of suffering albeit wise to it.

I am really quite fortunate to have known joy in my life. I know not everyone has joy in their homes. Perhaps, indeed, most people do not know more than happiness at best. I do not know. My wish is that everyone could know joy, but it is hard to see how one could be truly joyful without knowing Christ. Happy, certainly, but joyful? Perhaps, perhaps. Certainly there are many who know God and find joy in Him. Yet… yet to know God as Christ and Holy Spirit is about as intimate as we mortals can get with the Almighty. There is no other God who became one with us in body and soul, who fused his very being to our matter. This lends an intimacy that cannot otherwise be achieved. It is what marriage is a mere shadow of. And in intimacy, there grows the deepest and the greatest joy.

The most joyful people are the Saints, it has been said to me. I believe it! Who is more free, who is less self-conscious and more God-conscious than a saint? Some are so joyful that their interior levitation has been reflected in physical levitation! A priest my father knew once swiped his foot underneath Padre Pio as the saint was levitating, astounded that a human body should be floating above the ground! Such an amazing and miraculous external reflection of an internal reality!

I am grateful. I am deeply grateful to know joy again. I know that in my life joy comes and goes, but overall, when I am well, I am a joyful person, and I have always wanted to be a joyful person like St Philip Neri. I have prayed that God might grant me the grace of joy, just as I have often prayed that He might grant me the grace of wisdom.

In my joy, I do not forget suffering. I still remember my Matthew. I quickly recall dear friends who are undergoing terrible hidden crucifixions even at this very moment–some, remarkably, enduring these with a continued determination to rejoice in the Lord, God bless them! Rejoice in the Lord always! Newly equipped with joy, however, I can face these sufferings with a levity that is not of this world, a trust that God truly is God, and a good and loving one at that.

For now, my own life is enjoying some reprieve from major grief, and I am taking the time to thank God and to rejoice in my blessings: friendships many times more valuable than gold, family so near to my heart, wonderful children, and a husband I adore the Lord in, for the man is such a good man and such a delight. I am trying to bottle up my joy, label it, and shelve it for a future date when trials strike again, as they are sure to. The joy will still be there, but it will feel more distant, more of a memory than a present reality. And that’s ok. That is how this life is. In the next life, it will be pure joy beyond anything we have ever known in this life. We will all be levitating!

Renaming the Rosary: The Stressful Mysteries

We received some stressful news last week and it’s become a big lesson for me in Trust. In short, our landlord has plans to sell the house we are living in, so we have to find a new home sooner than we’d anticipated. It’s also teaching me Detachment in a big way: over the past two and a half years, I’ve made a nice home, finally relaxing into a sense of security in the past year, and now I’m being asked to give that all up. Thanks be to God!

I don’t really like it, I’ll be honest. I’m forcing myself to praise the Lord and give thanks, but it’s not coming naturally. I have noticed, though, that the more I forget myself and the more I praise Him, the happier I feel. It’s a bit like eating vegetables, though: I know they make me feel better, but I struggle to make myself eat them. Chocolate cake tastes so much better, and wallowing in worry has a similar weird appeal.

I was going to write through my feelings in my journal, but felt prompted to pray the rosary instead. My go-to set of mysteries is the Joyful Mysteries, the only ones I knew as a kid, so I would say those ones over and over again. They’re “my” mysteries. While I like the other ones, too, the Joyful are the ones I feel most at home with.

It occurred to me, while praying this morning, that “Joyful” is rather a strange appellation for this set of Mysteries. Had Mary not been her incredibly admirable self–had she been more like me–these mysteries would most certainly have been called the Stressful Mysteries. They’re basically proof that Mary was utterly amazing. Let’s break this down, for the sake of illumination:

The First Joyful Mystery: The Annunciation

A young woman, engaged to be married, is asked to conceive the Son of God.

  • Visited by a terrifying non-corporeal heavenly being. Stressful. You try not being afraid when the supernatural comes knocking at your door!
  • Unmarried and pregnant. Stressful. Couldn’t you have at least waited until I was securely placed in marriage?? How important is proof of this virgin birth anyway? I thought you said you loved ME and this is not helping ME right now in any way.
  • My betrothed may not look too kindly on this baby that’s not his. Stressful.
  • Possibility of being stoned to death for conceiving out of wedlock. Great idea, Lord.
  • Mother to the Son of GOD: ha! ha! um… can’t even.

The Second Joyful Mystery: The Visitation

Unmarried young woman in the first trimester of her first pregnancy ever travels to visit her pregnant cousin.

  • I don’t know about you, but I spent as much of the first trimester of my first pregnancy in bed.
  • Travel while pregnant on foot. Stressful.
  • Exhaustion on account of tiny, miraculous parasite. Overwhelming.
  • Morning sickness. NOT FUN.
  • Body changes. Whaaaaat?
  • Prospect of returning home with an increasing and imminently noticeable belly.

The Third Joyful Mystery: The Nativity

Young woman arrives in foreign city about to give birth. Gives birth in a place where animals are kept.

  • Moving before giving birth. Stressful. Also, I don’t care who you are, nobody wants to be riding on a donkey for days when you’re nine months pregnant and about to give birth.
  • Finally arrive in Bethlehem, but there was no internet to make room reservations in advance, so gotta trust God will find us something. In fact, the entire city is over-full thanks to this census. What happened to this whole “God will provide” thing? Couldn’t he have figured out an easier way to have his kid born in Bethlehem?
  • A stable?? This is not living in the manner to which I have become accustomed, Lord.
  • Couldn’t we have brought my mummy to help? I am about to give birth and some lady I’ve never met is the only person here to assist with the birth. Goodbye, privacy and comfort!
  • Wait, what? I just gave birth–NO RANDOM VISITORS. FAMILY AND FRIENDS ONLY. Please don’t touch the baby. Someone let me sleep? Is there any place to take a shower? Please leave: I actually just want to lie in the straw naked doing skin-to-skin and inhaling my new baby.
  • Could someone turn down the volume on those angels? And that star is shining way too brightly.
  • Joseph, do you mind shoveling that manure out of here?
  • WTF nobody told me breastfeeding would be so un-intuitive!!! Please use your omniscient powers to nurse, little baby!!
  • Bleeding everywhere. So gross. So gross. Your design is so icky, Lord.

The Fourth Joyful Mystery: The Presentation 

New mother brings her firstborn son to be consecrated to the Lord and circumcised.

  • They’re going to cut my baby. It’s going to be ok. —I can’t stand hearing him cry!!
  • Have you people ever heard of unsolicited advice? How does having a baby make you a target of every stranger’s passing remarks?
  • A sword? My baby? Old man, please… I don’t need this right now. I can hardly handle my baby getting a pinprick. Please don’t tell me there’s worse to come. I’m postpartum hormonal and I really don’t want to cry in public.

The Fifth Joyful Mystery: The Finding in the Temple

Twelve-year-old son has been missing for three days. He’s found in the Temple back in Jerusalem.

  • You are SO grounded.
  • What the heck do you think you’re doing preaching to these old men? They want wisdom? Tell them to talk to your mother next time!
  • Lord, I’ve never been so scared in my life. I’ve been having constant panic attacks. How could you do this to your mother??
  • We left the city! We told you we were leaving! How on God’s green earth did you think it was acceptable to stay behind?
  • You may be God, but in human terms you are only twelve years old. You haven’t even hit puberty yet. You aren’t growing up that fast!
  • I’m going to need about three days to sit on the couch and recover from the shock you just gave me, young man.
  • Where is chocolate when I need it?

 

As you can see, I am a long way from being the Blessed Virgin Mary. The mere responsibility of being the mother of God is terrifying to think of. I feel overwhelmed and unprepared just raising my merely human children. Mama Mary was clearly AMAZING. No joke that she was FULL of grace. You can’t do this kind of stuff unless you’re full of grace.

The good news is, everyone can be filled with grace. The more we surrender ourselves to God, the more he can fill us with His grace.

I still love the image of Our Lady of Grace that a priest once expounded on personally for me: he pointed out that her hand are open, not clenched. Grace can’t be poured into and through clenched hands. God won’t force our hands open to receive grace, but as a kindly Father will invite us and urge us to loosen our grip. Let go, let God.

Our Lady of Grace
Our Lady of Grace