“It was a gift. Keep it.”
– Arwen, The Two Towers
I have long treated joy as my enemy. I have fought it fiercely.
It fights back. It whispers to me in the chilling wind and shouts in the thunder. “Receive me. Take me into your soul. Make me yours, and pour me back out into your world.” But I grip trembling hands over fearful ears, because I don’t trust joy.
It makes itself very present in the dark stormcloud and the cloudless sky alike. It stands behind me, before me, to my right, to my left, and promises, “I have your back. I descend to hell with you, and rise to the reaches of the sky holding your hand.” But I dare not take its hand, for fear it will dissolve into dust. It never seems to last when I need it the most. I clench my hands into a fist.
But Joy is ever present, ever opening its soul and offering its heart to me. I have only to receive the gift. But I hesitate, refuse it, back away, and even flee from it.
For fear that if I act in response to it, I will make a foolish mistake. For fear that I will grow to love joy’s presence, and then it will abandon me.
For fear that it— the mystery that it is— will pry my fingers from trying to control my life, and that it will take me on an adventure from which I can never turn back.
“There is light and beauty up there that no shadow can touch.” — Sam, “The Return of the King”
Joy will break you. It will not save you, nor shield you from every pain. If anything, it may plunge you deeper into pain, deeper into feeling, deeper into being human. It will fill you with the adventurous heart and dreams of a child, and then walk with you into the world of grown-ups, where you must use it to break down walls of bitterness, hatred, stress, discontentment, and deception. It will be the glimpse of color, the hint of a smile from a stranger, the star that still glimmers behind a clouded sky– the short pause from the chaos that reminds you that you’re still alive, and that you’re still human.
“We could trust that when there’s joy, there’s nothing dark behind”
— Sleeping at Last, “January White”
Joy will heal you. It will be the rest from a long journey to break bread with fellow humans and the song that bursts from your throat to fight back the darkness pressing in on you.
Joy will make you human, opening up your heart to love those around you, to give generously when you get nothing back and to accept the love of others.
“Let joy be the crown upon our heads” — Josh Garrels, “Bread and Wine”
Let it be the starlight in a bottle that we nestle in our pockets and which shines brightest amidst the darkness. Let it be the covenant hanging ’round our necks, resting against our beating hearts, drawing us on adventures, leading us home, and teaching us to never fear the darkness. Infused into the air that we have been given to breathe, it is an everyday, extraordinary gift that must be received with an open, broken heart.