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To Kiss the Joy!

Sister Doreen’s Reflections

“He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy
He who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise” (William Blake)

This quote of William Blake’s, and the title of a book “To Kiss the Joy” by Robert Raines, has been coming back to me in my quiet times often over the past little while, and so I thought that perhaps God was giving me a nudge to do some deeper musing about joy.

My first thought was that Jesus was a person of joy, and that joy was born of the consciousness of his love towards God and of God’s love towards him. It was this, the brightness of this joy, that lit up the darkest hours of Jesus’ own human life. I believe that this was what Jesus was referring to and desiring for us when he said, “may my joy be in you so that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11) We are being encouraged to claim our inheritance as the beloved of the Beloved! It is our love towards God and of God’s love towards us that gives birth to deep joy. To be conscious that we are the apple of God’s eye, held in the palm of God’s hand, that there is no place, no circumstance, no situation, nowhere that God is not with us and for us. We need to take to heart the words in Isaiah 41:13: “Because I, your God, have a firm grip on you and I’m not letting go. I’m telling you, don’t panic, I’m right here to help you.”

The poem by William Blake is a beautiful reminder of who God is and who we are, a beautiful reminder to notice how we relate to life’s experiences and circumstances, how we perceive it, whether we react or respond, and if we can hold it with open hearts, with an open embrace, so lightly that we can indeed kiss the joy as it flies. When we hold on to something or someone, hold on to the joy, hold on tight, we can’t let them fly, and we can’t fly ourselves! We hold them and ourselves back. It is the recipe for being stagnant, not growing, moving backwards, being encased in fear and anxiety. When we clutch something so tightly, we can’t really enjoy it.

To be able to hold lightly to things gives us the ability to be simply present to experience all the aspects of whatever it is that we are experiencing in life at this very moment. To not tie it down, to not defend it against anyone who might take it away, to not build a fortress around our precious joy, but to allow ourselves to kiss it, and enjoy “the winged life.” Whatever joy we capture and cling to never meets our expectations and so often we feel that it is a failure of what we were looking for or chasing when really it is the way we are in relation to it that keeps setting us up to fail.

Jesus, a person of joy, who had no problem being fully who he was and fully living what he felt, every moment of every full day. The joy of Jesus, the smile, and the laughter – as big as he smiled and as hard as he laughed, that’s also how hard he wept and how deeply his heart broke. Joy – experiencing the fullness of all that life holds for us, the darkness, and the light, the happiness, and the sorrow: these are the ingredients that make joy: the capacity to live in all the fullness of life’s adventures.

In a book by Bruce Marchiano called In the Footsteps of Jesus he writes: “And the joy Jesus lives was so much more than just a sunburst smile, it was a joy that lived and breathed in a fullness of passion founded in desperate love and celebrated in everything he said and did.”

Those who bind to themselves a joy, does the winged life destroy; but those who kiss the joy as it flies lives in eternity’s sunrise. There is a transience to life, to joy and we often encase this truth in negative ways because we confuse the experience of permanence when what we really desire is significance, and we do the same with duration when we really desire depth. I want to really live my life to the full, to be open to the newness of life that God promises for all of us. It is the aching hope in my heart and my mind.

Because God is making all things new, because newness and life, not permanence and death is the aching hope in my heart, I can embrace transience without fear and kiss the joy as it flies. I believe that transience is the ‘outside’ of newness and eternity is the ‘inside’ of newness.

Newness is reborn again and again. It is part of the paschal mystery. Another of William Blake’s many quotations that fit the experience of ‘joy’ is “To see a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wildflower, to hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour.”

Robert Raines in his book “To Kiss the Joy” wrote: “God sets us free to taste eternity in an hour—to create  the marvelous by contagion— to notice the butterfly when it lands on your shoulder— to have the courage, to once live in unison with your dreams — and the hope, always the hope, to kiss the joy as it flies.”

Learning to celebrate joy – and to kiss it as it passes by – is one of the greatest spiritual practices. There is something special about joy. It is different from happiness that is short-lived and fleeting, even as we have pondered joy as something we kiss, not try to hold on to, as it passes by. Joy has the ability to live with and through sorrow. Underneath each moment of happiness is an eternal joy too deep to be blown away by every change that comes our way. It is born of knowing who we are, as I have said – the beloved of the Beloved. It is this knowledge, this inborn reality that makes joy eternal. It can never be taken away from you. God is our joy, God is the reason that joy doesn’t die, even when everything seems to go wrong, even when we are heartbroken in sorrow.

I share a hymn with you from Common Praise #514 “Jesus, Joy of our Desiring”

Jesus, joy of our desiring, holy wisdom. Love most bright;
drawn by thee, our souls aspiring soar to uncreated light.
Word of God, our flesh that fashioned, with the fire of life impassioned,
striving still to truth unknown, soaring, dying round thy throne.

Through the way where hope is guiding, hark, what peaceful music rings,
Where the flock, in thee confiding, drink of joy from deathless springs.
There is beauty’s fairest pleasure; theirs is wisdom’s holiest treasure.
Thou dost ever lead thine own in the love of joys unknown.

A prayer:
Endless Joy, infuse my wilting spirit with radiant vitality
and the sweet savoring of life.