a sermon by Rev. Jill Cowie
Cree singer songwriter Buffy Saint Marie tells us to keep our nose to the joy trail, to sniff out joy. Her words remind me of a day last winter on the beach in Marshfield. I was walking along the deserted stretch when I noticed a man about a half-mile away putting his hands around his mouth and yelling something, but because of the wind I couldn’t make out the words. As he came closer I could hear him yelling at the top of his lungs…”J-o-o-oy.” I looked around and thought it strange he was yelling this to an empty beach. He kept yelling though until finally, bounding over the dune, came a zestful golden retriever, by the name of –you- guessed- it, Joy. Joy was indeed very joyful.
Sociologist Brene Brown, famous for her research about vulnerability, says for us mere humans, joy is the most terrifying emotion we humans know. In her research she discovered that most people, when they first become aware of their feelings joy, begin almost immediately to fear its loss, tempering their joy to lessen their anticipated sadness. She calls this foreboding joy.
The antidote, she says to foreboding joy, is gratitude. People who are consistently joyful invite gratitude into the moment every time the feel the first shutter of foreboding joy. Gratitude helps us stay vulnerable to the possibility of deep and timeless connection.
I will never forget the moment of joy if felt the day I was in Washington Park, in Portland Oregon . I was not familiar with the 500-acre park, and I was lost trying to find the rose garden standing in the dark shade of the holocaust memorial. Two homeless men were walking towards me, dressed in rags, carrying bags. I felt vulnerable, no one else was in sight. Though my fear alarm was ringing, I looked into the eyes of the elder man and met his gaze. My senses stretched to fill the space between us and for a moment I imagined the life that danced in those eyes, and read like Braille the deep creases of his brown indigenous face. “Seventy miles” he said, he and his friend had walked to reclaim a lost social security check. I discovered I was hungry for connection, and I absorbed his words like a sponge. We chatted, and as they moved alone the younger man gave me a look that said “you just got to love him.” After taking several wrong paths, I finally did make it up to the rose garden, and there he was to greet meet me, bright with familiarity and mirth, he said “well you finally made it.” I was so grateful to be seen and remembered.
Since that day, I have realized that, how much we all long for the face that blesses and the eyes that recognize, and that one of the most profound gifts we can give to another, is to let go of all limitations we have learned about age, race, gender, or class to see each other authentically. My rose garden friend helped me moved beyond my own conceptions of homeless and middle- class, and woman to shed light upon the spaciousness of my heart. In that brief encounter I learned we are both so much more and it felt like coming home. What are your memories of Joy? How do you practice looking deeply, when have you or do you find yourself framing and renaming yourself in a relationship? When do you feel what CS Lewis describes as the acceleration of rhythm with another other and with your sense of the Ultimate? Author Ann Lamont, found joy in a writing workshop with prisoners in San Quentin. She said, the joy we felt was “as if the wind, the rain, and ourselves had merged to become an accordion.” Our greatest summons is to really see, and hold each other, moving with music through the fleeting shadows. This is how we love ourselves into being, this is how we take joy.