Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
Somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
Thus begins Jack Gilbert’s hope-filled and realistic poem “A Brief for the Defense”. The very next words continue by saying:
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick.…
For me the beautiful pinnacle of this work of art comes when Jack virtually shouts from the mountaintops:
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. …
… We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of the world.
“We must have the STUBBORNESS to accept our GLADNESS in the ruthless furnace of the world.” Wow! Yes! SO much YES! A different way to say this is: Joy is a choice, one available to all people in all circumstances. That’s why he writes of the women laughing amidst the sorrow and struggle (btw, if you want to read the whole poem you can check it out here: https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/a-brief-for-the-defense/). This is how Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., and countless other people were and are able to be put through hell, wronged, harmed, etc., and emerge full of joy and forgiveness.
While I could definitely be wrong, I believe the following to be true and find living as such is profoundly life-altering in the best way: Joy is primary, natural, and inherent to our existence. Conversely, while sorrow and suffering are real and shouldn’t be ignored, they are secondary and foreign to the human condition. In this way of thinking, we don’t avoid hurt, sadness, and loss, but instead go through them carried by a deep undercurrent of joy.
I keep a list of blogs to write, and have been sitting on this one and the excellence of stubborn gladness and choosing joy for a good while now. I mention that because just this week I heard a wonderful sermon from Brian Zahnd titled “Oh Joy Begin.” Every year he does a series titled “Finding God on Your iPod”, wherein he does six’ish talks on popular and typically recent songs with especially powerful messages that point to God and the Way of Christ. “Oh Joy Begin” is the subtitle of a song from Dave Matthews Band’s current album, wherein he sings of how joy is our beginning point, our natural, inborn, and God-given disposition. Anyway, when Brian used that to share the following, I knew it was time to write this blog: “Don’t let the sorrows and struggles of your little life eclipse the joys of your Big Life; and your Big Life is everything from the eternal Love of God to the dew of the grass in the morning.”
If joy is a choice, the question is how do we develop that mentality? How do we tangibly practice picking bliss? Heck if I know! 😉 Just kidding. I’ll rapid-fire share/list some practices I’ve found to cultivate stubborn gladness.
– Repeat “joy” in your head like a mantra, ESPECIALY amidst struggle and sorrow
– Spend some time in nature, or as close as you can get
– Keep a gratitude journal
– Share your roses and thorns with someone near and dear everyday. These are the highs and lows of your day. When you felt most alive and what was hard.
– Dance (anything from bobbing your head to swaying in your seat on up!)
– Dance and sing with friends/family
– Eat a meal with people you love
– Compliment people
– Encourage people
– Give to people
– Help people
– Listen to people
– Go for a walk
– Take a few deep breaths to draw in and loud exhales to clear, release, and let go
– Make gratitude the center of your prayers
– Practice yoga or any other mindfulness practice that resonates with you
– Enjoy a drink
– Massage your feet
– Massage a loved one
– Put lotion and/or essential oils on yourself
– Read and watch positive and encouraging material
What practices do you find helpful? How do you choose joy? What do you think of stubborn gladness? I’m convinced joy is in us, beneath us, and around us for the choosing. May we remain stubbornly glad in the face of the world’s furnace!
Grace and peace,