Anne's Notes on "The Gravity of Joy"
By, Anne Remington
(A moving, hopeful message given by Angela Williams Gorrell at Calvin University on January 10, 2022)
Dr. Gorrell, along with others at Yale University, had been doing an in-depth study of "joy." Suddenly, within a short period of time, her father died from opioid addiction, a nephew committed suicide, and a second nephew died young from heart complications. Dr. Gorell went went into a period of despair and experienced a feeling of powerlessness. Joy seemed remote. To think of joy at this time seemed almost comical. Joy and pain, how could they exist together?
Eighteen months later, Dr. Gorrell agreed to be a part of a group of chaplains who visited prison inmates. Amazingly, she visited women who had overdosed on opioids and suffered from depression. Dr. Gorrell was eager to learn from their experiences. Opioids made them feel loved. Dr. Gorrell says despair feeds off our pain. Joy is the work of resistance against despair. Joy is vital. The prisoners loved singing. Feeling a connection with others, having permission to be themselves helped to bring joy. The prisoners loved making up and belting out verses to "This Little Light of Mine." They sang "Wading in the Water" and other such songs. One day they made such a commotion the prison warden came down to check. She was impressed. She joined in the singing. Joy gathered.
Not long after his death, Dr. Gorrell recalled a beautiful moment with her dad. When very young she had ear surgery. When her dad realized the success of the surgery, that it made hearing for her possible, he was joyful. In his celebration, he was his old self — healthy, caring, loving... With her recalling, Dr. Gorrell felt her dad's presence and felt united with him. She felt redemptive, restorative joy.
Dr. Gorrell says it's never too late. In Luke 15 we read about the lost coin, the lost sheep, the lost son. What is lost can be found, even when it is least expected.
Joy has grit, meaning, truth, and connection with God. We have a cloud of witnesses. Those with us are more than those against us. Your life matters. Make pain productive. (Beware of toxic optimism.)
To love is to suffer. Sorrow is not ungratefulness. Lament is a gateway. What has God done with our suffering? God is with us. He witnesses our suffering.
Dr. Gorrell says that sounds of joy, sounds of weeping..., they can be hard to distinguish. After her nephew's suicide (his mother's name is Stephanie), Dr. Gorrell, her sisters, and a niece or two gathered at night — for as many as four nights. They gathered purposely for fellowship indulging in what they knew to be their favorite comfort foods — salsa, taco chips, and guacamole dip. They shared stories and memories of the nephew — memories both sad and happy. They shared their sorrow and their joy. A niece was expecting. She showed pictures of her unborn baby. The girls joyfully studied the pictures trying to determine the sex of the child. Their togetherness lasted late into the night — often as late a 4:00 a.m. They stayed up until Stephanie said it was time to go to bed.
Dr. Gorrell goes on to say that joy can accompany sorrow. Even in despair our life can have meaning. Joy is the way Christianity sounds. Prepare for joy (not happiness). Actively seek joy. Look for joy. Meditate on joy from the past. Recall the good, unspeakable joy.
Hope is the anticipation of joy. Joy is connected to grace, a gift freely given. Choose to live awake, exposed, open to joy. Joy is God. Joy is the presence of God. Joy is love. Joy can find you.
Let us pray: Our Heavenly God, thank you for your gift of joy. Help us to seek joy, to be open to its presence. Amen.