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September 16, 2018: Returning to Joy

by Brian Smith


We need a conversion to joy.  That was my conclusion driving home from an all-too-brief summer vacation in Vermont.  It was a good trip.  Good friends, good music, good conversation.  But wait, must all good things come to an end? Must the repristinating joy of a truly liberating experience be buried at last by the pain, pressure, and anxiety of life?  In the last few years, I have mourned five deaths. Some tragic, some natural, all of them very close to home.  I also feel a sense of loss in this time of deep national division and estrangement.  But must this mean the death of joy?

Sounds bleak, I know. But such were the heavy thoughts upon my heart as I made my way homeward.  The Greek word for homecoming, nostos, is laden with notions of triumphant glory—the heroic return of Odysseus being the most famous nostos in classical literature. The word becomes more familiar, perhaps, when paired with algos, which means pain or sorrow.  Put them together (nostos + algos), and you can imagine my nostalgia for the lakes and mountains behind me, as I dreaded a return to the DC grind.  But I had one stop left—a conference entitled “The Future of Joy and the Good Life” at Yale Divinity School, one of my alma maters.

This phrase alma mater, nourishing mother, is familiar to us.  It also reminds me of the pressure facing two anxious mothers, nourishing two heroic children.  However, as we read in the Gospel of Luke, at the sound of a traveler’s voice, Elizabeth was filled with the Spirit when the child in her womb “leaped for joy.”  That traveler was Mary, who offered in return the Magnificat—“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…”—the most famous song of rejoicing in the Christian canon. 

The great gift I received at the conference is the insight that joy springs from the good in our lives, and nourishes us, even in bleak times. This was reinforced for me on my first day back at All Souls: “let the righteous be glad and rejoice before God, let them also be merry and joyful.” The writing was on the wall!

As we find the way back to our church home after time away, may we together turn to Christ, the God who returns, nourishes us, and calls us to joy.

Last Published: September 13, 2018 4:07 PM
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