They say that joy is different from happiness, but it seems to me they are close cousins at least. Happiness grows into joy. Joy is the crowning of happiness. When you are joyful, you are happy. But when you are happy, you are not necessarily joyful.
I experienced an otherworldly sense of joy this morning in St. Joseph’s Chapel. It was not the first time and I hope not the last (aha, hope is woven into the equation, I am certain).
I was not expecting it, and it appeared at once from nowhere and everywhere, a deep sense of being loved and cradled by beauty and glory.
We weren’t sure we would be braving the rain this morning. And we lost an hour with the time change, adding to our fatigue. Indeed, we doubted we would/should/could brave the journey into Berkeley, not between storms. Then there were the kamikaze highway drivers. There were the potholes and floods. But the skies cleared for a time, and we plucked up our courage. We decided to go. After all, it was Lent.
I avoided the potholes and flooded spaces, eyeing the cars speeding around me, crossing lanes, zigzagging, racers determined to tempt fate, or perhaps God, with the thrill of their speed. In California, police are scarce after defunding and riots.
So by the time we arrived, all we wanted was to be safe, to get home after Mass intact. We didn’t have high expectations.
We entered the cold and dark chapel, and I turned on the lights and the heat, lit the candles beneath the Madonna and Child icon. We took our seats. Our organist had arrived and was playing something encouraging, an energetic and charming prelude. Our sexton/cantor waited to begin the chant. Soon our priest, preceded by two Cal Crew residents who served as acolytes, began to intone the litany. They stepped slowly up the aisle, praying “Lord have mercy,” carrying torches alight. We joined in the responses.
As we sang the songs and prayed the prayers, so well known to us that the words live on our lips, we few became one, the clay of our souls sculpted into beauty. The organ boomed, the cantor sang, and the music soared high over the altar and up into the domed chancel and the clerestory windows. Our preacher preached quietly, profoundly. We are all called to take part in the Kingdom of Christ on Earth and in Heaven, he said. Each one of us has a gift that is meant to be offered, as part of the Body. We heard the words of St. Paul written to the church in Ephesus: “Ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light: (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;) proving what is acceptable unto the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:1+, BCP 128)
Perhaps it was the sudden thundering downpour on the roof and our warm safety inside; perhaps it was the Lenten purples – the tented tabernacle, the vestments. Perhaps it was the fire flaming from the candles and the sweet Madonna with her Child in the back cradling us as her own. Perhaps it was the Sacrifice of the Mass celebrated by our elderly priest, and the General Confession and Absolution. Perhaps it was when we stepped to the altar to receive the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, as the cantor chanted the Psalms.
Sometime at some point I realized it wasn’t happiness I was holding in my heart. It was joy, the joy of creating and offering to God our liturgy of love. It was the joy of the Holy Spirit weaving among us, making us one. It was the joy of being a part of a holy family, the family of God. And as our preacher reminded us, each one of us is essential. Each one of us must offer ourselves and our talents. Each one of us then becomes our sister or our brother, our mother or our father, our aunt or our uncle, our children.
For when we create and offer our love sculpted by prayer and song and sacrifice, Our Lord makes us children of his light. And we bask in his joy. We nearly see his face.
Perhaps, too, joy came into the space created by my lack of expectations. I went to Mass because it was the right thing to do, not because I desired to go. I had many excuses, but all were banished. And so, when we least expect it, we are bathed in light. We simply need to pay attention to creed and commitment, to do our little part as a member of the Family of God, the Body of Christ. Then we are surprised by joy, as C.S. Lewis wrote.
And yes, we made it home safely, beneath the storming heavens. And as I looked up to the greening hills, a rainbow shown through the mist.
Thanks be to God.