Last Friday I got to attend a workshop given by one of my favorite seminary professors, Kirk Byron Jones. It was based on his newest book, titled Fulfilled: Living and Leading with Unusual Wisdom, Peace, and Joy. And I must say, I sure did leave this workshop feeling fulfilled. We talked about cultivating three things that can really transform our work and our lives: stillness, awareness, and playfulness.
I could write a very long blog detailing all of the wonderful insights shared by Rev. Dr. Jones. But I'd like to just share a theme that stood out and resonated deeply with me. What kept coming up was that these qualities we seek are actually innate and immediately available to each of us. He talked about "lavish spiritual energy and vitality" that is within us, referring to when Jesus said, "The kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:21).
Dr. Jones mentioned that he often scans book titles to see what themes are drawing the public's attention, and he noted that these days "happiness is hot!" As he spoke, I recalled seeing many recent titles of books and articles on the topic of happiness. But he expressed less enthusiasm for happiness and more of a desire for joy. "Happiness often depends on what happens," he said, "but joy is an ever flowing reservoir that is always there."
I took many notes throughout the day and was pondering all that had been shared. As I thought about the idea of joy being within and always available, I remembered a quote from Mary Baker Eddy's book Science and Health. At a time when I was feeling overwhelmingly sad, a Christian Science practitioner who was praying with me asked me to look at this sentence, which is quite lengthy and intricate, and to identify the simple subject and predicate. I like grammar stuff, so I was eager to figure it out. Let's see if you can do it. Here it is:
"The sinless joy, — the perfect harmony and immortality of Life, possessing unlimited divine beauty and goodness without a single bodily pleasure or pain, — constitutes the only veritable, indestructible man, whose being is spiritual" (p. 76).
So if we were to distill that into its most basic subject and predicate, what would it say?
Joy constitutes man.
Joy is the very essence, the very fabric of who we are as God's creation. "Man" here is a frequently used term in past years referring to men and women, of course. So, truly, joy is unavoidable. It is part of who you are and is always there regardless of what is happening. We could discuss myriad ways to access that innate joy, but the important first step is to know that it is there. And Dr. Jones touched on many ways to cultivate joy and other important qualities. One simple thing is to notice- to be aware of the beauty and goodness that is ultimately always surrounding us.
Someone in the class mentioned that she finds it helpful to notice the good things in other people's lives even when her own situation may not feel exactly as she would want it to. In response, Dr. Jones said, "I've always felt that true wealth is less a matter of acquisition and more a matter of appreciation." The more we appreciate, the more our true wealth appreciates.
To learn more about Dr. Jones and his books, check out his website here.
There is always something to celebrate, even if it is as simple as the fact that we are here, living one more day and having the opportunity to learn more about who God is and who we are. Along those lines, Dr. Jones shared with us a powerful poem by the great Lucille Clifton. Ms. Clifton is a survivor of abuse and has shown herself to be a truly victorious woman. The poem is called "won't you celebrate with me". I will leave you with the last line:
"...come celebrate with me that everyday something has tried to kill me and has failed."
There is always a reason to be joyful and always joy within. It is who you are. May you enjoy that fact today.