Hello, beloved of God!
Have you ever had those days where you felt like a bit of a failure? Maybe not entirely, maybe not absolutely, but you just feel like there are so many things that need doing, so many things you want to do, that are absolutely where your passion and skills meet, but time hasn’t shown up at the intersection. That’s the kind of day that I’m having at the moment. There’s endless to-do and only so much of me.
Of course, this is just what it is to be human.
So, rather than berate myself or stay up late another night or shove my children onto their screens so I can get more words onto the page, I’m going to phone a friend.
One thing I’ve had time for lately is the audiobooks and podcasts that keep me company on the drive, the walk with the dog, the dishes in the sink. Recently I finished Inciting Joy by the poet and essayist, Ross Gay. Listening to the author read his own words to me, I laughed out loud, I cried with real tears running down my cheeks.
So this is my gift for us this week – less of me, more of one of my mental gurus. Here is an excerpt from Ross’s book (if you want to read the entire excerpt, it’s available at https://therumpus.net/2022/09/22/rumpus-book-club-excerpt-inciting-joy-by-ross-gay – heads up, there may be some spicy language):
“It is a kid’s fantasy (by which we grownups seem as seduced as plenty of kids) to imagine any emotion discreet from any other. But it strikes me as a particularly dangerous fantasy—by which I also mean it is sad—that because we often think of joy as meaning “without pain,” or “without sorrow”—which, to reiterate, our consumer culture has us believing is a state of being that we could buy—not only is it sometimes considered “unserious” or frivolous to talk about joy (i.e. But there’s so much pain in the world!), but this definition also suggests that someone might be able to live without—or maybe a more accurate phrase is free of—heartbreak or sorrow. Which I’m pretty sure you only get to do if you have no relationships, love nothing, are a sociopath, and maybe, if you’re enlightened. I don’t know about you, but I check none of these boxes.
But what happens if joy is not separate from pain? What if joy and pain are fundamentally tangled up with one another? Or even more to the point, what if joy is not only entangled with pain, or suffering, or sorrow, but is also what emerges from how we care for each other through those things? What if joy, instead of refuge or relief from heartbreak, is what effloresces from us as we help each other carry our heartbreaks? Which is to say, what if joy needs sorrow, or what Zadie Smith in her essay “Joy” calls “the intolerable,” for its existence?
…But what I am advocating, and adamantly so, is that rather than quarantining ourselves or running from sorrow, rather than warring with sorrow, we lay down our swords and invite sorrow in. I’m suggesting we make sorrow some tea from the lemon balm in the garden. We let sorrow wash up and take some of our clothes. We give sorrow our dad’s slippers that we’ve hung on to for fifteen years for just this occasion. And we drape our murdered buddy’s scarf, still smelling of nag champa, over sorrow’s shoulders, to warm them up some. We wedge some wood in the fire. As we’re refilling their tea we notice sorrow is drinking from a mug given to us by someone we’ve hurt.
We ask sorrow about themselves, and we scooch closer to hear. We eventually decide to invite a small group of friends over for a potluck, because we want sorrow to meet them. Sorrow says, “Maybe more than just your closest friends?” So we add to the list a couple acquaintances from work, the supermarket. We put our mechanic on the list, our chiropractor, and the neighbors we wave at but not much more than that. And when sorrow asks, “What about that guy . . .” of someone you really don’t like, after thinking how’d sorrow know that, you say, “I hate that dude.” Sorrow says, “Better invite him too.” “Damn, okay,” you say. Looking over your shoulder as you’re growing the invite list, sorrow nudges you in the arm and says, “Maybe just invite anyone with some sorrow to bring along? Couldn’t be too many people. Besides,” sorrow says, looking around at your little house, “this is a good-sized place.” So we open it up: Bring a dish and bring your sorrows…”
Beloved, at our best, a church family becomes a place that can hold our sorrows and help us find the joy mixed in. I’m praying for you. I hope you are praying for me. See you Sunday – we’ll continue our VBS for all of us as we hear about Paul and Silas finding joy in the most unlikely place!
grace & peace,