Today in “The Gift of Joy – Part 2” I need to admit that all the joy we hear around Christmas time often doesn’t register with me. For me, the more melancholy Christmas carols drown out the mood of the joyful ones. The ambience around “I’ll be home for Christmas” and “White Christmas” more typically characterize my emotions than “Joy to the World.”
My heart tend to drift the melancholy side of life anyway, and Christmas tends to push me even more in that direction. Most of it has to do with reminders of the painful dysfunction of my childhood. And then this particular Christmas several of my friends are going through a really tough time in their life. It’s hard to see the joy.
My hunch is that some of you are like me, or you have friends or family like me. How can people like us find a measure of joy during what others describe as the most joyous time of the year? I found an answer that works for me, and there’s a good chance it will work for you too.
In the previous episode I mention that we find joy, not by looking for it, but instead by waiting for Joy to come to us. I find that thought comforting, one less thing to work at.
Another way of looking at coming to us, is to think of Joy as more like a cat than a dog.
With dogs, there’s the expectation they will meet a need we have. Most dogs enjoy people, they want to engage with us, and they want us to affirm them. They want to be part of our world. Dogs are easy, and mostly needy. Not so with cats. They don’t need us. They’re self-assured and not co-dependent on us They’re not impressed with our words. You never say to a cat, “Good Kitty, good kitty” when they do something that meets your approval. They would laugh at you if you did. They’re already snickering on the inside as it is at us humans.
But where the joy comes with a cat is when they do the unexpected. Cats will surprise you. Dogs never do; they don’t know how. They are way too predictable. There’s little joy in the predictable.
But a cat knows how to surprise. Like when you visit at a friend at their house and their cat goes into hiding when you ring the door bell. But then, an hour into your visit, and when you least expect it, their cat appears out of nowhere and ever so quietly, jumps up on your lap as if you’ve been best buds for 20 years as it sits there and purrs. So unexpected, so surprising. That’s what joy is. It finds you, you don’t find it. The harder you look for joy, the less likely you’ll find it. Less is more, when it comes to finding joy.
Joy is found in surprises, and how can you go looking for a surprise? You can’t. To get more joy in our life we need to be prepared for joy to find us. We need to be ready for surprises.
How do you do that? How do we prepare for joy to find us, like a friend’s cat who comes out of hiding to jump on our lap?
We need to create a welcoming place in our heart for joy to find us.
I have an example of how joy found me recently.
Flash mob November 2010
Several years ago I stumbled upon a YouTube video by accident. It’s of a flash mob at the food court of the the Seaway Mall in Welland, Ontario, Canada. I have a link to it at the bottom of the show notes, so you can watch it for yourself now, and then come back here. Or you can watch it later.
87 people from a church choir in Ontario scattered themselves throughout the food court of the mall on Saturday, November 13, 2010. Out of nowhere, and on cue at precisely 12 noon, one person from the choir interrupts the eating and quiet conversation by standing up and begins to sing the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah. Shortly thereafter, others from the choir, all dressed as holiday shoppers, gradually join in. And for the next 4 and ½ minutes the food court patrons are treated to one of the most beautiful choral pieces ever written.
The video really moved me, as it has done so for others, too. The local newspaper reported the same in people who viewed the video. Here are a few quotes from the article:
“I’m not a religious person, but I found this video to be beautiful and it brought tears to my eyes, well done!”
“How could listening to this beautiful music not make someone smile? It was heart warming to see all the food court people mesmerized by such a spectacular performance.”
“You can clearly see people crying… This is the most intense video I have ever seen on You-tube”
“I was deeply touched by this great performance.”
“Just watching the video nearly moves me to tears.”
“Every time I watch this I get the holy goose bumps and tears in my eyes. So powerful! THANK YOU!! and MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!!! Hallelujah!!!!!”
“I haven’t been to Mass in years, and I’m bawling my eyes out right now.”
“I watch this recording over and over again, because of its overwhelming impact. The happiness on the faces of those people performing, but also to those listening!”
“I am an atheist, yet I find myself coming back to this video over and over again. I love beautiful music and even more I love seeing people enjoy it. I think this is wonderful!!”
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All of this is joy. But after the 4 plus minutes or so of the singing, people applaud, then go right back to eating their Arby’s roast beef sandwich like nothing ever happened.
That’s how it is with joy. It usually doesn’t last long, It’s like the manna in the old testament that fed the nation of Israel in their 40 years of wandering in the desert. It came once each day, didn’t last long at all, but more came the next day.
And so it is with joy as well. It may not last long, but if we sit back and relax and create space for joy to find us, it will come back.
* * * * * * *
I’ve watched this video many times, and I’ve been trying to figure out why. Why does it bring me so much joy? Why am I drawn to it as I am? I’ve been trying to figure this out for some time, and the conclusion I’ve come to is the appeal of it comes down to one word: beauty.
There is so much beauty in several relationships here. The obvious beauty of the heaven-like voices and harmonies that so connected with people, that it brought some to tears. Both the food court lunch crowd, and the YouTube viewers the newspaper interviewed.
There’s the beauty of the lyrics, and being part of the history of generation after generation since 1742 that have enjoyed them. It’s a relationship that transcends time and space.
Then there’s the beauty of the singers who sang with such gusto and joy on their faces, second only to the joy in their voices. The beauty of this church choir all working and relating together to create something much grander than they ever could individually. The sacrifice they made on a Saturday to come entertain and bless strangers in a shopping mall in itself is a thing of beauty.
I found beauty in all the contrasts in this scene. Starting with the pianist playing “Jingle Bells” on his portable keyboard in the very beginning, then turning on the organ mode for the “Hallelujah Chorus.” The contrast of this glorious music for the heavens meant to be sung in a majestic cathedral, performed instead in front of an Arby’s and a Subway in a shopping mall food court.
For me, the second most beautiful thing of all is the reaction of those dining in the food court. So many smiles. People taking out their cell phones and recording the experience. Little children standing on chairs to take it all in. Joy was obviously finding them. They didn’t have to go looking for it at all. It came to them. The event united strangers together in joy and beauty for a few minutes on a Saturday afternoon in November.
One face in the crowd stands out for me. Notice at the 3:23 mark a 30-something slightly bearded man. His smile and his eyes are saying, “Ahh. This is so beautiful; it’s just what I need at this moment. Ahh.”
Finally, the most beautiful relationship to me is the connection between the truth of the lyrics, and the voices that proclaimed them. You can tell from their faces the choir actually believed what they were singing. You can tell their voices were connecting with their hearts.
The words are quite simple:
The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and his Christ
And He shall reign forever and ever
King of kings forever Hallelujah
Lord of hosts
Lord of lords Hallelujah
Put all of these elements together and it creates a feeling. Beauty is a feeling, and I think that is why I’m so drawn in to the moment recorded for us in this video. It’s the relationship between what we see, and what we hear, and what we think that produces this feeling of beauty.
Handel is masterful in using just a few words from the last book in the Bible. He weaves these lyrics together with his beautiful melodies, bringing hope that there is a future for all of us. That the difficulties of this life will vanish one day, and that because of the king of kings and lord of lords, I will begin living as God originally intended for all mankind. Forever and ever.
The joy of that truth found me, by God using a flash mob at a food court in a shopping mall in Canada, of all places. If joy can find me through beauty like this, it can find you too.
Which leads us to the main take-away from today’s episode, our show in a sentence:
Joy will find us in surprising ways when we open our hearts to the beauty found in relationships with people working together, in our relationship to history, and in our relationship with truth that touches our hearts.
How are we to respond to today’s show?
May each of us spread joy to the world through the beauty of how we relate to each other, to what’s happening around us, and to the transcendent truth that is ours for the taking. And in doing so, may joy find us in ever increasing measure.
In next week’s episode, the day after Christmas, we’ll wrap up the year with the last episode of 2018, and talk a bit about what’s coming up in 2019 to help transform our relationships into the best they can be.
Quote of the Week
“A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.”
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Resources Mentioned on today’s show