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J is for Joy

J is for Joy. On the third Sunday of the Advent season, we light the candle for Joy. What do we mean by Joy?

“ joy is the intersection between the human and the divine, and that’s why at some points, when you experience joy you throw your hands in the air, you laugh, you dance, but at other times you experience joy you cry, and you like release in this other way, and it’s the same thing, and its coming from this place of letting go…”

That came from a hip-hop artist named Michael Franti, who leads a band called Spearhead. I heard him interviewed in a podcast of the CBC radio show Tapestry. Franti is a deeply spiritual person who was raised Christian, and is now a Yoga teacher. He uses music as a way to work for peace and unity.

He produces some incredibly joyfilled music. Here is a link to one of my favourites:

https://youtu.be/ehu3wy4WkHs

I am attracted to Franti’s idea of joy being found at the intersection of the human and the divine. During my training for ministry I worked and studied with Quakers for two years. Many Quakers say every moment, of every day, is potentially sacramental. (God is equally present with us at all times, everywhere, but there are times when we are more open, more able to accept what God is offering us, which is Presence.)

I don’t think God ever “goes away”. God is everywhere, in everything, including us. But we do not seem to sustain that awareness of God’s Presence all the time. There are times when we feel like God is very far away, or that God is just an idea, and not a reality.

The image that comes to mind is of feeling so weighed down with the pain and grief that we all experience, that we are not able to look up. Our head is downcast, and our eyes are pointed at our own feet. All we can see is the patch of ground where we stand. It becomes hard to imagine that we might ever feel different, or better.

In our culture there is such a tendency to avoid feeling bad. We have medication and distractions available. There are all manner of short-term highs we can use to numb our feelings, or mask them, or allow us to feel something other than what is real. But these do not lead us to joy.

Our spiritual path must take us through the sadness, through the famous “valley of the shadow of death”, before we can come out the other side.

Michael Franti talked about this in musical terms: “in the history of African-American music we have the blues, which is this expression of deep sadness, and sorrow, and struggle, and then once you have passed through the blues you come to funk, which is the same chords, just played faster, and now you have music that is celebration, and it is that transformative quality of music…”

 When we find ourselves open again to God’s presence, there is a transforming power. The song of sadness can become one of celebration. Our slow sad shuffle through life can become a dance of joy.

The Advent Alphabet is a ministry offering from Rev. Darrow Woods, minister at Trinity United Church in Oakville, Ontario. Each day during Advent, a different letter of the English Alphabet will be a jumping off place for a reflection.

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