I offer you two quotes to think on ( though I encourage you to read them all):
#9 0n joy:
Joy is most intimately related not to happiness but to sorrow, not to fullness but to the void of non-being. Joy is ontological vulnerability, a leap across the abyss of difference. Sorrow is a small hole in the flute through which joy breathes its tune.
#5 on smiling and sadness:
When the church’s theological rejection of sadness was secularised, sadness became a pathology requiring medical intervention. The medicalisation of sadness is the final cultural triumph of the Protestant smile. If Luther or Kierkegaard or Dostoevsky had lived today, we would have given them Prozac and schooled them in positive thinking. They would have grinned abortively – and written nothing. The truth of sadness is the womb of thought.
This all connects with my own sense that to often we forget the gifts offered to us by grief and lament. Too often we feel that we must gloss over life's difficulties, and we ignore our brokenness and vulnerability at our peril.
In his excellent book Psalms of Life and Faith, Walter Brueggemann commenting on our covenant relationship with God says:
"Where there is lament, the believer is able to take the initiative with God and so develop over against God the ego-strength that is necessary for responsible faith. But where the capacity to initiate lament is absent one is left only with praise and doxology. God then is omnipotent, always to be praised. The believer is nothing, and can praise or accept guilt uncritically where life with God does not function properly. The outcome is a "False Self", bad faith that is based in fear and guilt and lived out as resentful or self deceptive works of righteousness. The absence of lament makes a religion of coercive obedience the only possibility." (p. 103-104)
I am struck again and again by one particular phenomena that has cropped up several times in my ministry over the last year, I have noticed again and again how difficult it is for Christians to engage with their sense of grief. There have even been occasions where guilt for feeling grief has been the overriding emotion! To dare to ask questions of God at times like this is seen as a lack of faith and a false self emerges as the true self is denied any form of hearing. The result is an angry, almost bitter faith that has no time for tears.
By contrast unchurched people are far more gracious with themselves, they dare to weep and to question, and very often the tears and the questions bring them closer to God as they realise that it OK to be sad, and even to yell and shout at God.
In the post before this which coincidently is on "Thankfulness" I wrote about being thankful for finally being able to talk about depression. I am convinced that I would have begun to not only heal, but have a more responsible and mature faith earlier if I had not been so convinced that I should present an all is well exterior to the world, or be known to be a failure as a Christian!
I now believe that lament is a gift, and a gift that we do well not to ignore, we have a wonderful resource in the Psalms, and maybe it would help us to remember that Jesus wept over Jerusalem:
But as he came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, he began to weep. “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes.( Luke 19: 41-42)
and over Lazarus:
When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him,and he was deeply troubled. “Where have you put him?” he asked them.
They told him, “Lord, come and see.” Then Jesus wept. The people who were standing nearby said, “See how much he loved him!” (John:33-36)
and struggled in the Garden of Gethsemane over his own fate:
He walked away, about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” Then an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him. He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood. (Luke 22: 39-44)
We should not brush our sadness, our grief and our deep and painful questions aside, for in denying them we deny ourselves, and dare I say it we even shun the God of all comfort by making a loving God into something very different- a cold and demanding tyrant!
And finally I wonder if, when we turn away from sadness, grief and lament, whether we also turn away from real joy?
Two more quotes from Ben Myers:
"Why are clowns so frightening? Their demonic aura comes from the fact that they never stop smiling. Hell is the country of clowns, where tormented strangers smile at one another compulsively and forever. The devil is the name we give to the Cheshire Cat that is always vanishing just beneath the surface of our world, leaving everywhere sinister traces of a cosmic painted grin. This grin is the secret of history."
"Happiness is analogous to joy as Facebook is analogous to friendship, or as a brothel is analogous to marriage. Happiness is the gratification of desire. Joy does not fulfil desire but exceeds it so majestically as to obliterate it. Joy is ascesis, the criticism of desire. The criticism of desire is also desire’s purgation and renovation. Joy is the baptism of desire, its drowning and rising again. The fullness of joy is an ache of absence. ‘Our best havings are wantings’ (C. S. Lewis)."
Thank you Ben for two thought provoking posts.