15 February 2008

I’ve been thinking a lot about joy over the past few weeks. It started when I attended solstice celebration. As a part of that gathering, we were all invited to take a card onto which the leader had written a word of blessing, or a quality of life that we might seek in as the light began to return. My card – a slip of paper, really, with swirls of pink and purple and blue – said simply ‘joy’ followed by a heart. In the darkness of the sanctuary, I closed my eyes as tears slid down my cheeks. Joy. Allowing myself to be shot through with the awareness of the preciousness of life, the beauty and wonder of the world. Allowing light into the deepest dark of the year. Yes. Joy was what I needed in that moment and following.

Now, in February as I write this, I’m seeing joy around me more, recognising it, holding and savouring it. Ann Sexton writes about joy in the ordinary objects and moments of her day. In ‘Welcome Morning’ she begins:

There is joy
in all:
in the hair I brush each morning,
in the Cannon towel, newly washed,
that I rub my body with each morning,
in the chapel of eggs I cook
each morning,
in the outcry from the kettle
that heats my coffee
each morning,
in the spoon and the chair
that cry "hello there, Anne"
each morning,
in the godhead of the table that I set
my silver, plate, cup upon
each morning.

Indeed this is where joy is best found: in the everyday and common moments of our lives. If we’re paying attention – really paying attention – joy can be uncovered in the smallest of moments. While I am seeing more joy in many places, I’ve been especially mindful of it on the daily walks to and from school that I do with Claire.

Most mornings, Claire and I set out from Isleworth and walk the mile and a half or so to her school, the Vineyard, at the top of Richmond Hill. This in itself is a pleasure. Walking the towpath that stretches beside the River Thames, we get to watch as it changes from week to week, note the birds that are swimming or flying, and, of late, see the sun come up as we walk along. Claire is often chatty in the morning, telling me her what has been happening in school or events of the day before, or what she is excited about in the coming day. Some of our best conversations happen whilst we are walking along. Even on the most gloomy of days, the walk is both satisfying and lovely.

In the afternoons, I pick her up from school and we walk down the hill to catch a bus home. This is where the joy shows through most clearly. Virtually from the start of our time here in Richmond, Claire has danced down the hill from school. She hops and skips, shifts her body from side to side, kicks her legs out in unusual ways, jumps and leaps. It’s more subtle than it sounds, but it is all in there. I’ve always been bemused by it, but lately, it feels more joy-filled. It took me a bit to get it well sorted, but I finally figured out that part of what Claire does is she watches the pavement we’re walking along. She hops over cracks, sees designs that she can make with her body and feet as we walk along, and is continually responding to the particular place in the world that she is at the moment. She’ll perceive a hopscotch pattern in the paving stones and begin to play: two feet out, hop on one, two feet out. When those pavers are gone, replaced by a different pattern of bricks or smooth asphalt, she’ll end with a flourish of some sort and watch for the next opportunity to dance along.

This is a joyful way of being in the world, this readiness to dance, to be present to this moment, to what is around us. I haven’t yet worked up the courage to let go and dance with her, though occasionally, I’ll jump or skip a little, maybe do my own hopscotch next to her. But it seems that the encouragement and the reminder is always there with me as we walk along.

‘Remember joy!’ say her feet as she dances over a crack in the pavement. ‘Dance through life!’ says her spirit as she turns and shifts, as she leaps along down the hill.

Joy, I think, is more a habit than simple happenstance. We find it when we are open to it, when we look to the world for its sweetness and pleasure, when we are attuned to the opportunities for delight and renewal. It also comes as a gift. Anne Sexton finishes off her poem:

So while I think of it,
let me paint a thank-you on my palm
for this God, this laughter of the morning,
lest it go unspoken.
The Joy that isn't shared, I've heard,
dies young.

May it be that we all speak of our joys with one another, that it may live within and among.
(A column written for my newsletter at Richmond & Putney Unitarian Church)