Joy is an Easter feeling and a virtue in my faith tradition. For reasons fairly obvious to me, it is not the leading line in any description anyone would ever write about me. After all the fasting and sacrifice of Lent, I am worn out before the fifty days of Easter even begin. To be honest, I am better at repenting (and the accompanying self-criticism) than I am at rejoicing. Besides, doesn’t everybody know that joy is dangerous?
When an opportunity for joy presents itself, my most frequent response is fear. What if I delight in that little spaghetti face and then he dumps the whole bowl on the floor? What if right behind that posing girl in her Easter dress is a tantrum just waiting to get me? It feels safer not to enjoy those fleeting moments at all. The feeling isn’t lying: joy is not primarily safe.
Because of the nature of time, joy is risky: it invites me to attach pleasure and purpose and possibility to a moment which will pass away imminently. The world is a beautiful place and everything in it is dying.
If I choose emotional safety over intensity, I protect myself from feeling loss, devastation, destruction, and pain deeply. The cost of this choice, however, is that I also restrict my ability to feel elation, delight, hilarity, happiness and joy.
I have need self-protection, and I can see how those choices also hurt me. Learning how to care for myself without blocking all risk has become necessary. Out of the good Fridays and holy Saturdays of the last few years, I am learning something new about joy. Or maybe three new things.
First, I think joy is a radical acceptance of the present. It is in fact dangerous and scary to show up fully to this moment because all the moments are not as fabulous as a tiny, warm loaf of bread I get to eat all by myself. Some of the moments are awful. And they are passing away too. To meet God in whatever is right now opens the door to receive joy –and any other emotions that come – as gift.
After recognizing joy’s existence in now, I am also learning that joy is not only something we feel, but something that we live, do, and practice. I pull up at a red light and the man in the car beside me is rocking out in the driver’s seat as though he has the privacy afforded him in a shower jam session. The light is going to turn green in a moment, and I will remember that I’m trying to get to the grocery store before daycare. But right now, I can practice allowing his dancing to fill up my heart, to crack the smile lines in my face, to bring laughter out loud into my car. While I sit beside my sister’s grave, longing to visit her instead in my kitchen, I let the sunset comfort me. I notice for the first time that the sun set at the same time that she died. This joy can coexist with the pain.
Tentatively, I think I am discovering that doing joy is active faith in resurrection. Laughter in the middle of my grief allows my fear of what if to take a backseat to what is. As Brené Brown says, “It’s our fear of the dark that casts our joy into the shadows.” What if the reverse is also true? What if living joy can be an anecdote for fear?
Easter is here and for this season, I am practicing joy. I am smiling on a park bench while my meticulous one and her cousin fill in all the shapes with chalk. I am reveling in the deformed mittens taking shape on my first set of double pointed knitting needles. Right here on Tuesday evening, I am embracing the danger of delighting in the wobbly training wheels because the grin of mastery is worth the scraped knees.
In world with too much sorrow and fear, there is already danger. We can shield ourselves from the danger or we can take the risk that there might be joy even here. I am choosing joy, and practicing recklessly.