We process people think in terms of moments. They are the building blocks of life. We call them "actual occasions of experience."
I am grateful to the website Spirituality and Practice for giving me language (a spiritual alphabet) to recognize the range of emotions that can give richness and depth to moments of experience, "C" is for connection and "J" is for joy.
I am grateful to Martha and the Vandellas for giving me a song of joy: “Dancing in the Streets.”
I am grateful to several friends around the country who danced in the streets with me yesterday, remotely, each from our respective kitchens. My movements were not all that graceful, but who really cares, or will ever know?
I am grateful to Patricia Adams Farmer for giving me language to understand joy. See her essay below.
I am grateful for friends "on the other side," including those in senior citizens centers and at a restaurant in rural Arkansas where I play music, who did not experiencer any joy at all yesterday, but whose hearts felt and appreciated the hope others felt. I so admire their generosity of spirit. They understands hugs, too.
I am also grateful for friends "on the other side" who don't appreciate my dancing at all, including those filled with resentment and anger. I know about resentment and anger from first-person experience. I want to befriend them today and tomorrow, just as I did yesterday and in past months, when I was hurting.
I am grateful that I might help enrich our friendship, not from the position of power or gloating, but from the position of a listener who knows the vicissitudes of life, who wants no one left behind, and who, like them, loves a good rock song, like Dancing in the Streets by Martha and the Vandellas.
I am grateful for food, music, and storytelling can help us come together.
I am not grateful for a president who created so much division and hatred in our nation, but I will keep praying for him as I am able, albeit with conflicted emotions.
I am grateful for a president-elect and vice-president elect who urge me and others to dance in the streets with humility and hope, and who remind me that, after the dancing, we need to roll up my sleeves and get to work on building a beloved community where no one is left behind.
I am grateful for the chance to roll up my sleeves.
I am grateful for the deep mystery, God, whose sleeves are always rolled up, providing us with possibilities for hope and courage and love, moment by moment.
Jay McDaniel, November 8, 2020
"J" is for Joy
by Patricia Adams Farmer
“See the world through the eyes of your inner child. The eyes that sparkle in awe and amazement as they see love, magic and mystery in the most ordinary things.”―Henna Sohail
When I was young and impressionable and just learning about spiritual matters in my church youth group, someone offered me this acronym: Joy = Jesus, Others, Yourself. In that order. This translates (I was told) to: Jesus before others and others before yourself. I tried to embrace this thrilling hidden code of spiritual wisdom but, alas, it did not add up to joy. Instead, it weighed down my youthful spirit, separated things that should not be separated, and put me in my place: last.
Now that I am older and wiser, I still don't like the acronym; however, I recently ran across another gem of "joy" wordplay that I do like. The adult choir in my church calls itself the J.O.Y. Choir. This acronym stands for: Just Older Youth. My spirit leapt at this one! Yes, that's a perfect definition of joy for adults, and it comes packaged in song.
When I think of joy, I think of singing and of that childlike ebullience that overrides adult fears and worries in song—a song that goes down deep and rises to notes so high that only nonhuman creatures can hear. I think of birds singing in the branches of a tree I used to climb as a child, a sturdy old elm hosting song sparrows and small children—a joyful tree with a green smile, spreading its branches in welcome.
Just Older Youth gives me permission to let go of the analytical, cynical, and over-rational side of adulthood and look to the children around me—how they grasp hold of the imaginative with such gladness! How they revel in their freedom to entertain walking trees and talking animals and worlds filled with warm embraces and goodnight stories. When I was a child, the world was not so very complicated, and everything could be healed by love and caring. Yes, the very word "joy" returns me to that first gladness before I learned that such flights of childlike fancy are out of place in the serious adult world of drudgery and complications and disillusionment.
But is that true? Have we made life just a bit too complicated and cynical for our own good? We do see heaps upon heaps of examples of childishness among grownups, but surely not enough childlikeness. We can tap into either one, after all. Maybe those of us who are gaining in years and pessimism need to return to this lost gift of the joyful inner child. We might discover after a lifetime of study and work and inner struggles and outer failures that we were right the first time: love and caring do heal everything; trees do welcome us with open arms; animals do talk to us. Nature is alive, love is the greatest power, and kindness cures just about every ill. If we were to reinterpret the first acronym—Jesus, Others, Yourself—with our childlike selves, we would not separate the three. Instead of prioritizing which one comes first, it might occur to us that we're all part of the same word. Yes, we are to love our neighbor as ourselves because we are part of each other, something children easily grasp. Neither can God be separated out like a distant king on a throne in heaven. That view of God does not illicit much joy, as it takes the sacred out of the world, the magic out of the polka-dotted ladybug, and the wonder out of the marshmallow clouds that form animals in the sky. I don't know about you, but I could not live in a world without divinity itself singing to me from the tree branches!
Perhaps we can think of the world as a place of intimate belonging, where God sings lullabies to the world through birds and choirs and acts of kindness. When we feel lost and afraid, we can always find comfort—and yes, joy—in these places. Simple. Uncomplicated. Pure. This we knew as children because we were free to listen with our hearts and sing with abandon and love without fear. When we begin to sag under the weight of adult complications and disillusionment, we can return over and over to this deeper, simpler, refreshing joy of earlier years. By pairing the forever gift of childlikeness with the deeper wisdom of age, we create a joyful duet that sings of the aliveness of nature, the sacredness of each other, and the delights of love and belonging. All that joy asks of us is to sing more and talk to trees and practice gratitude and dare to be kind. It's that simple, really.