On Joy and Particularity: Advent Reflections

Advent is flying by, and this week, the Church around the globe is reflecting on the theme of joy.

“Angels” (Kathy Eppick)

“Angels” (Kathy Eppick)

While I love the season of Advent, joy has always been the hardest week for me. Every Advent, I find myself needing a sense of hope or peace for this world, but joy feels like a luxury. It feels frivolous amidst all the injustice and brokenness in our world.

Additionally, growing up as a child of immigrants meant that joy and delight were not the regular currency of my family. Much of our energy and effort went towards survival. Thus, joy was experienced in glimpses and moments, but generally overshadowed by compulsions to perform, produce, and “get through” life rather than enjoy it.

But yesterday, as I was praying and reflecting on the theme of joy, I felt the Lord speak clearly to me about the revolutionary nature of joy. I was reflecting on why joy can often feel lacking, specifically in my marriage, and I began to recognize how my lack of joy is connected to my desire to conform others into my own image.

It’s hard for me to enjoy Michael, because I want him to be like me. I want him to do things the way I would, to move at the pace that I move, to communicate the way I communicate, to feel (or not feel) emotions the way I would. And when he doesn’t, it’s hard for me to honor, appreciate, and delight in him. I can’t enjoy Michael while trying to control him.

Through this moment of reflection, I began to realize that the root of joy is finding delight in a created being’s particularity. As Thomas Merton says, “A tree gives glory to God by being a tree.” And in recognizing a tree’s own “tree-ness,” we honor the purposeful work of Creator and share in God’s own work of declaring, “It is good!” Particularity is what makes Creation beautiful and enjoyable.

Similarly, to enjoy Michael is to identify what traits make him uniquely Michael- his generous spirit, his love of people, his loud and high pitched laugh, the way his hair curls, his quirky mannerisms, the way his vocal runs move. It is to notice it all and say, “I’m glad you exist.” It is to honor and delight in those particularities instead of erasing them.

Toothy grins at 17 months

Toothy grins at 17 months

To enjoy my daughter Amara is to take notice of her own particularities- what excites her, how she sticks out her tongue, her toothy grin, her vigorous laugh, the way she runs, the squeals she makes- and to say, “I’m glad you exist.”

To enjoy a home-cooked meal is to enjoy the smells, the textures, the colors, and the unique combination of flavor profiles that make oxtail stew distinct from macaroni and cheese, and to say “I’m glad you exist.”

To enjoy a Samoyed, or a Marie Howe poem, or a Sonny Rollins vinyl is to recognize their particularity- the qualities that make them uniquely reflect the truth, beauty, and goodness of God- and to say, “I’m glad you exist.

Sequoia National Park- 2016

Sequoia National Park- 2016

If this is true, then joy ultimately exists because diversity exists. And as we find joy and delight in the unique particularities of Creation, we are honoring Creator, whose imagination made way for the breadth of the human experience. To express joy- by delighting in the particularities of various parts of God’s creation — is an expression of worship.

This also means that in moments when I judge others for not being like me or fitting my own expectations, that I am actually stripping myself of the gift of joy. To conform other people into my likeness or force elements of creation to fit my expectations, is an act of narcissism that steals joy.

So this week, I am challenged to pay attention- to the people, the moments, and the the various gifts Creator brings in to my life- and to enjoy them simply for what they are. Not what I want them to be or not what I think they should be, but for the unique ways they reflect the image of God. For the delight that comes from their particularity. For the gladness they bring into the world. I am challenged to release my own narcissism and desire for control, and to make room to be surprised by joy.

Where will you find joy this week?

CLOSING PRAYER FOR JOY:

Loving God, we thank you for the joy you bring us. Help us prepare our hearts for the Lord’s coming by allowing us to see glimpses of You wherever we go and in whomever we meet. Multiply our joy, and teach us to delight in the diversity of your Creation. Amen.