Joy to the World
I'm on a quest for joy.
Ordinarily, I would use an exclamation point at the end of that sentence, but I can't do it. It would distort what I'm trying to say, change the meaning of the sentence, which is that I can't find joy lately; that there seems to be a dearth of joy everywhere I look.
There are the usual reasons for this: war, famine, disease, politics. These are the umbrellas for despair, but, boiled down to their essence, is the heartrending reality of our individual alienation from each other. We witness our inhumanity to each other daily, locally and globally, and don't have to wait for the nightly news; it's in our face while we get coffee in the morning or write a report for work.
I am trying to find a balancing counterpoint to this distressing state of affairs and naturally, I am looking at prayer, to prayer, for direction. The premise of Prayer Soup is that there is power in prayer and power in talking about it with each other. Somehow, I have assumed that joy would be, could be, one of those powerful byproducts. But finding that connection is a struggle these days and I wonder if I have been mistaken.
My quest has taken me online to gospel choirs, to on-the-page journalism, a traditional Christian church, a mental health agency, social media, a not-so-traditional "parish without walls" and a lot of conversation with believers and non-believers alike. The common denominator is worry and sorrow, if not downright hopelessness.
Although the despair is reflective of the state of the world, people do continue to live as if they have some power to create hope, and, dare I say it, some joy, where there has been a serious lack of it. This comes in the form of genuine kindness to another, of providing a meal to someone who is hungry, or listening to someone who is scared or lonely. We see a myriad of these behaviors between people when tragedies strike but it has been helpful to me in my travels to see this stuff going on daily, as a way of life, not just in response to something cataclysmic. It is possible to dissolve the differences between us in an instant, and my experience is that in that moment, a prayer is created and joy is the result.
Here is the twist though: the last time I bought a sandwich for someone who told me he was hungry, the joy created was mine. I think he was grateful, relieved, probably. Maybe he had joy; I don't know. But for me, a day that had started out on a particularly low note, shifted to joy and remained that way for hours. It didn't wipe out famine or homelessness or addiction. But it was powerful and joyful, nonetheless.
I wish I could remember this every day. I wish I could remember it when I'm tired or rushed or when I'm beside myself from the news of the day. I want my experience of prayer to take the form of a daily reminder that I can create joy from where I stand at any moment.
Please check out these people, places, programs and events that are daily dishing up hope, making a difference and creating joy:
Kara Russell, https://sites.google.com/site/krchicago2016/
South Congregational Church, Springfield, MA, Rev. Tom Gerstenlauer , Pastor, sococh.org
A Parish Without Walls, Father Ed Nadolny, e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Bayonne Community Mental Health Center, https://www.bayonnementalhealth.org