Joy = Transcendence

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One thing that brings me joy

“We focus too much on fun, and not enough on joy.”

I heard these words from a man receiving an honorary degree at my local university this weekend. And I thought, “Well, God, when you have a lesson you want me to learn, you are not subtle, are you?”

This man, a Methodist pastor, has spent his life practicing the corporal works of mercy, and he’s been amazingly successful at it. So when he uttered that sentiment, my whole weary, under-rested body sat up straight. Because I wanted to know how this man, who insisted that “the world is getting better all the time,” when I see the opposite, defined joy.

He talked about spending a week on a Habitat for Humanity build, and the fun the team had together–but joy, he said? Joy came when, at the end of the week, he saw the reaction of the family as he helped them move in.

Maybe that’s the key to the question, “What is joy?” Maybe joy is in the elevation of ordinary life. Maybe joy is what happens when I go beyond temporal pleasure to a focus on something bigger than myself.

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Like flowers. Easy to appreciate at a superficial level, but they are joy to the eye and the soul.

That resonates, doesn’t it? When I think of the moments in my life when I’ve felt what I know to be joy, I go immediately to the feeling of being in a hospital room in the middle of the night with my newborn baby. And all the many beautiful night nursings that followed. I was doing something practical in those moments—something that had to be done; there was no choice in the matter. Yet they didn’t feel like practical moments. They were moments when my soul could see the bigger picture, when I felt connected to God and all the billions of women who had gone before me, and recognized that I was joining a group that was so much bigger than this one mother, nursing a baby in the corner of one room on one night.

So perhaps joy is about transcendence. It is about recognizing the holy in the mundane moments of life: in the way the sun breaks through the clouds, or the smell of wild honeysuckle, or the feel of a little boy’s kiss. Erasing some (not all; that’s too much to expect of mere mortals) of the distraction and logistical brouhaha and simply being more present in my own life.

And as I think about what it would be like to live with transcendence in the everyday situations of life…yes, this could be revolutionary. It really could change everything. For everyone.

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