In my last post, I mentioned the Pope’s admonition regarding joy and it’s place in the Christian life. I certainly believe that, but I wanted to take a moment to address the other side of the equation.
Fr. James Martin is a Jesuit and author of Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor and Laughter are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life. On his blog this week, he posted an excerpt from the book addressing the difference between mindless happiness and true joy.
So the believer must navigate between a grinning, idiotic, false happiness and carping, caterwauling, complaining mopiness. (Notice again that I’m also not speaking of clinical depression here, which more of a psychological issue.) Overall, the believer will be happy and sad at different points of his life; but joy is possible in the midst of tragedy, since joy depends on one’s faith and confidence in God.
He goes on to note that:
Likewise, a person in a difficult situation can still find humor in his or her life and still laugh. Moreover, he can choose to be cheerful around others, not in a masochistic way but rather as a way of not unduly burdening everyone with your latest complaint. This is not to say that one should never talk about one’s struggles or burdens with anyone. As St. Paul would say, “By no means!” It’s important during times of struggle to speak to a close friend, family member, a priest or minister, or a therapist, things are very difficult. And it’s important to share those struggles with God in prayer.
This has certainly been true in my life. Even in the most difficult circumstances, there are moments of joy and grace and even laughter.
In my father’s last days, before the cancer finally beat him, there were many, many dark moments. Times when we despaired as we watched him spiraling down. Yet, there were also moments of joy and humor. Sometimes as a result of something we remembered about him from better days or because of some seemingly small event that set us to laughing.
Humor became a relief valve and provided us with moments that I truly believe were God-sent as grace to get us through.
Much of this came back to me this week when I read Thomas McDonald’s account of his father’s last days. Thomas is a talented blogger who perfectly captured the experience of a slow death in all of its essence. He, too, experienced those moments of grace and joy.
There were brief “rallies” and flickers here and there. One day, he was muttering something, and when my mother asked him who he was talking to, he said, “All of them” with a smile. He would regain tiny slivers of consciousness and his eyes would focus on blank places in the room, one after another, and smile beatifically.
Thomas sums up the experience at the end of the essay.
The bodies we have are noble and God-created: enfleshed spirit. They are wombs for the soul to be born into heaven, and one day we will return to these bodies, only to find them perfected. And after this our exile, we will come face to face with the first fruit of that womb, and there will be neither tears, nor death, nor mourning, nor crying, nor pain.
In my mind, these two essays complement one another. If you have a few moments, please read them both. They point to the middle path which we should walk as believers and give an example of the journey. And, both of them point to the fact that even in dark times, there is still joy to be found.