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Apprehended by Joy

October 23, 2012

Sixty years ago, C.S. Lewis wrote his autobiographical work “Surprised by Joy” to talk about his slow conversion from a somber atheism to a vibrant Christianity. Ten years ago, I was baptized, coming into the fold of Christianity, and as we are wont to say ‘welcomed God into my heart.’ It was an experience like no other. That warmth I felt that day and the days to come was something private, whole, and pure. It was between me and God. It fueled my religious fire, and my relationship with God.

It could only be described as ‘joy,’ and nothing else: Even before I read Lewis’s work, an oft-quoted resource for Christians of all varieties, I had identified this feeling I so strongly felt. It is a desire that has apprehended me since then. It makes one want to shout, to sing, to dance, and to live life to the fullest. Like Lewis says, it is a feeling transient, and waits to be fulfilled. It is not ‘happiness’ or ‘pleasure,’ it is something definitely distinct. Even the mentally crippled can feel this feeling, and respond to it in kind. Even a retarded person can sing and engage in this feeling of absolute worship. And I think it is the center for the Christian religion as a whole.

Why do we do what we do? Why do we evangelize, congregate, and all the other things associated with the Christian religion? “A Christian is someone who exchanges the beautiful for the mediocre” to paraphrase Mark Twain. Maybe so. But why? We do do mediocre things, and “insist that others do the same.” But it is in this mediocrity, this simplicity, this humility, that Joy hides behind a leaf, laughing and delighting in her excellence, in the beauty that she exults. It is tantalizing. At once, I want to go out into the world, screaming, “He is risen!” and at the same time I want to hold back, and restrain myself, saying that it is illogical, and that others have done the same thing, and it has just gotten old. It has. And there is no way to properly manifest this Joy. But I want to feel it again, and I want to express it. If only I could.

Joy has many forms, as Lewis expounds, and it is found in its complete form in the Christian religion, or in God, as it were. I wish I could just rest easy in that. But Christians are people that hurt each other, and others, and are some of the most hypocritical and backward-thinking people on the planet. Not all of them, of course, but the more I look at it from arm’s length, the more I see how true this is, and how ‘rational Christians’ are few and far between. They excuse themselves: “We are just as much sinners as you are.” But that is not an excuse. It puts the blame back on the people outside the fold. Was it not Jesus who said, “be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect?” Maybe he was using hyperbole. But I dare not think so.

It is not because of the walled-in city of gold or fear of the lake of fire that I pursue God even to today, as I have said, nor is it, necessarily, about the truth behind Christ’s resurrection. It is because of this feeling. The feeling of Joy that permeates everything, and makes everything lighter, makes everything whole again, and the world a brighter place. It is so hard to explain. “It’s just a spirit thing,” the News Boys blithely sing, “it’s a holy nudge, it’s like a circuit-judge in the brain.” Given the context, this song sounds a lot more austere than it probably intends to sound. I am perpetually apprehended by Joy. I am apprehended, in tension, by this ‘circuit-judge.’

When people unassociated with the Christian look from the outside-in, they look with curiosity and sometimes disgust at the stupidity of our worship as a whole. I can only wonder what people think of the song “God” by Rebecca Saint James. It really makes no logical sense, and has no purpose except for worship, except for stimulating Joy, the grand circuit-judge. They just think it is nonsense. We know better.

And I talk like stimulating joy is a bad thing. And maybe I am treading on dangerous waters: “He who blasphemes the Holy Spirit cannot be saved,” Jesus says. I still do not know what that means, but I don’t really want to ever find out. It seems to be the sternest of Jesus’ teachings. But I will say that this is a good feeling, and it is a feeling of being free. Nothing on Earth is quite like it, and everything, as Lewis points out, anticipates it, I might think myself.

And here I must qualify. Joy is basically when one is in a church service and one opens their arms up. It’s quite a feeling, someone might attest. Some psychologists or reductionists may say that it is simply biological, and the feeling comes about from being drawn to each other in the church service, a kind of socio-psychological phenomenon. But I disagree. I have felt this intense draw to worship even on my own, even without music in some cases (music is usually what stimulates Joy). I cannot rule out the possibility completely that it is simply a socio-psychological phenomenon, though. I might say I at once disagree, but am skeptical even so in my own right.

I am continually apprehended, then, by this immeasurable, insurmountable, effervescent feeling that makes me want to go out into the entire world and preach to the nations. And there, then, is the tension. Because so many have done it in a way that I see as contemptuous, counting their converts as if spoils of war, and making them “even worse sons of Satan than they were,” (in many cases), and moreover that many others have done it such that no one sees it as something “new,” (although it is always new, or renewing, I might say) I have to keep my Joy to myself. I have to let only my actions speak for this Joy instead of my words, whatever they might be. And I might venture to say that a truly loving God would desire nothing less than for us to love each other in kind, and let our actions speak for us. To spread the word of God militantly, running other cultures into the ground is not the way I would have it. Instead, I want people to show love to each other through kind words and kind actions. And I hope the author of this Joy, who I suppose is God, wants the same.

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