Reflections on Joy
As we think about joy and celebration at St Peter’s this spring, I have two personal experiences of joy that I would like to share with you.
The first you may find a bore, but you’ll be too polite to admit it. So I’ll get it out of the way first – it’s the joy of a child. My niece, Jessica. I know it can be tiresome to hear about other people’s children, so I’ll make this quick.
Jessica is six years old and has recently learned how to send What’s App messages (which are like text messages, only they have more emoji’s—like a wink to tease someone or a laughing face streaming with tears for a ‘joke’). It gives me joy to receive messages from Jessica.
Last week she sent me picture of her face when her wobbly tooth had fallen out. She asks me to send her pictures including of St Peter’s. When I sent her a picture of the side altar she asked: “Is that where you eat?” If I don’t reply immediately, Jessica will usually send a message that says: “Please reply.” Or “What are you doing Auntie Jen? Please tell me.” She often writes: “I love you so much”.
With her blonde hair, blue eyes and fondness for pink, sparkly shoes, I can’t say Jessica takes after me. But she is my first niece, and when I held her as a new born baby in Basingstoke hospital, I cried. Her presence in my life gives me joy.
The other experience of joy that I would like to share with you is a spiritual experience. In 2010, soon after joining St Stephen’s Canonbury, I was invited to go on an Alpha course.
Already being a Christian and from a more traditional Anglican background, I was rather sceptical about the whole thing. But I thought it would be a good way to get to know some of the community and to show an interest in a different, Evangelical approach. Most of the sessions were indeed interesting so I stayed the course. And when it came to the Holy Spirit Away-day in Balham, I made a conscious decision to be open to the words that were shared and the experiences of the day.
The vicar gave a talk about the Holy Spirit and asked us to stand in a circle. I recall the vicar made a bee-line for me. So in a spirit of openness I closed my eyes and held out my hands. I remember a sudden, strong sense of presence and then a deep and physical warming of my heart. It was real and powerful and not something I could ignore. That evening as I walked home, I had no doubt in my mind that this was God. The feeling it gave me was of complete Joy.
In the coming weeks, I felt that God was very close to me, walking next to me, holding my hand. I wanted to read the Bible, because the words it contained suddenly came alive to me. This was a turning point in my spiritual journey.
What I have shared with you today doesn’t take away from the painful Good Friday experiences that I expect we all have known. Being Easter people may not come naturally. Some days in Eastertide I find it hard to engage in what feels like a forced sense of happiness.
But celebration is not just a way of making us feel good for a while. It is the way in which faith in the God of life is lived out, through both laughter and tears. It is the unceasing affirmation that underneath all the ups and downs of life there flows a solid current of joy. Joy offers the solid ground from which new life can always burst.
Joyful people do not necessarily make jokes, laugh or even smile. They may even not be people with an optimistic outlook. Rather, joyful people see with open eyes the hard reality of human experience. Yet they are not imprisoned by it. They have no illusion about the darkness that exists. But they also know that death has no final power.
Joyful people suffer with those who suffer. Yet they do not hold onto suffering. They point beyond it to an everlasting peace. Jesus wants us to know joy. In John 15 He says: ‘I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete’.
Jenny Walpole is the Licensed Lay Minister at St Peter De Beauvoir.