Wednesday, August 01, 2007

What is Joy?

What follows is based on my last conversation with the Orthodox Christian Fellowship group I worked with while my wife and I were still in Pittsburgh. If you are interested in learning you can take a pick at their website: Pitt/CMU OCF. I will expend this in a later essay.

A hallmark of the Christian life is joy. I realize that we often think of faith, or hope, or love as the sign of a Christian life lived with integrity. And while I would not in anyway wish to contradict St Paul--we can all of us think of people, or times in our lives, when our loving, or hoping, or believing have been devoid of joy. While I think joy is lesser virtue then faith, hope and love, as I've pointed out before, we cannot dismiss a lesser good in favor of a greater one.

Joy is just that, it is a lesser good in our lives and yet without it, the greater virtues ring hollow not only to us, but to the world around us. Joy, I would suggest, is the evidence that our loving, our hoping and our believing really are rooted in Christ and not simply a reflection of our own wishful thinking, neurotic strivings or our ego.

Joy is different from pleasure. Pleasure, where physical, psychological, social, or spiritual, isn't wrong--but it is transitory. Pleasure, and Aristotle knew this well before the coming of Christ, is fleeting.

So what is joy? Joy is that which remains after pleasure has died and withered away. St John Climacus suggest that joy is the experience we have when "our pleasure-loving dispositions and unfeeling hearts attain to love of God and chastity by manifest sorrow (Ladder of Divine Ascent, 1.8) While this sounds rather fearsome, and can be at times, what the saint is getting at I think is that joy transcends our bodily and psychological experiences--or better, joy is the experience of redirecting our life toward God and only in God taking pleasure from the creation.