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"Give you joy!"

book coverThat expression first sprang into my consciousness as I read and reread a wonderful series of historical novels by Patrick O'Brian. They are usually called "the Maturin Aubrey series" in honor of the two main characters, Stephen Maturin, doctor, spy, and naturalist, and Jack Aubrey, successful ship captain and bungling fool when on land. They are, what Richard Snow declared in the New York Times, "the best historical novels ever written."

Set in the early 1800s, these novels intrigue me, not as action adventures (which they are), but by the way they convey the ambience of the times the music, the medicine, the culture, and the adventure at being a midwife at the birth of modern science. One small aspect of this ambience is the use of the phrase "give you joy." They frequently employ it is a combination compliment, blessing, and greeting. For example, Stephen might say "Give you joy Jack," upon seeing his friend for the first time after a victory in battle, the birth of a child, a promotion, or even a particularly good meal.

It sounded awkward and affected at first to my modern ears, but through repeated use in the novels I came to grasp it is as a special greeting with real depth. I like it, much the same way as I like the Hindu greeting where you fold your hands, look your companion in the eye, and bow silently. To me that greeting is recognizing what the Quakers call "that of God," in everyone. Give you joy is a greeting of similar depth, but I'm afraid we don't understand this because we don't understand the word "joy."

Paul Tillich photoPaul Tillich does. He was my Dad's favorite theologian and in "The New Being," one of several collections of his sermons, he expounds at depth on "The Meaning of Joy." Notes Tillich:

"For the men of the Old and New Testaments the lack of joy is a consequence of man's separation from God, and the presence of joy is a consequence of the reunion with God."

To be separated or united, that is the whole story in a nutshell. The world divides into two classes of beings, those who feel separated - who live in "sin," another much-abused and misunderstood word and those who feel united with the ground of all being. So when a 19th Century Christian of Stephen's depth of learning says "give you joy," he is talking about something much more than a simple smile or lightheartedness.

The complete text of Tillich's sermon is available online here. But here are several excerpts which explore the true depth of meaning in this simple, three-letter word, joy:

Joy is demanded, and it can be given. It is not a thing one simply has. It is not easy to attain. It is and always was a rare and precious thing. . . .

. . . many Christians try to compromise. They try to hide their feeling of joy, or they try to avoid joys which are too intense, in order to avoid self-accusations which are too harsh. Such an experience of the suppression of joy, and guilt about joy in Christian groups, almost drove me to a break with Christianity. What passes for joy in these groups is an emaciated, intentionally childish, unexciting, unecstatic thing, without color and danger, without heights and depths. . . .

Joy seems to be the opposite of pain. But we know that pain and joy can exist together. Not joy but pleasure is the opposite of pain. . . .

Our joy about knowing truth and experiencing beauty is spoiled if we enjoy not the truth and the beauty but the fact that it is I who enjoys them. . . .

Power can give joy only if it is free from the pleasure about having power and if it is a method of creating something worthwhile. Love relations, most conspicuously relations between the sexes, remain without joy if we use the other one as a means for pleasure or as a means to escape pain. . . .

Every human relation is joyless in which the other person is not sought because of what he is in himself, but because of the pleasure he can give us and the pain from which he can protect us. To seek pleasure for the sake of pleasure is to avoid reality, the reality of other beings and the reality of ourselves. . . .

Mere pleasure, in yourselves and in all other beings, remains in the realm of illusion about reality. Joy is born out of union with reality itself. . . .

And so we use them for a kind of pleasure which can be called "fun." But it is not the creative kind of fun often connected with play; it is, rather, a shallow, distracting, greedy way of "having fun." And it is not by chance that it is that type of fun which can easily be commercialized, for it is dependent on calculable reactions, without passion, without risk, without love. Of all the dangers that threaten our civilization, this is one of the most dangerous ones: the escape from one's emptiness through a "fun" which makes joy impossible. . . .

Do joy and pleasure exclude each other? By no means! The fulfillment of the center of our being does not exclude partial and peripheral fulfillments. . . .

We must challenge not only those who seek pleasure for pleasure's sake, but also those who reject pleasure because it is pleasure. Man enjoys eating and drinking, beyond the mere animal need of them. It is a partial ever-repeated fulfillment of his striving for life; therefore, it is pleasure and gives joy of life. Man enjoys playing and dancing, the beauty of nature, and the ecstasy of love. They fulfill some of his most intensive strivings for life; therefore, they are pleasure and give joy of life. Man enjoys the power of knowledge and the fascination of art. They fulfill some of his highest strivings for life; therefore, they are pleasure and give joy of life. Man enjoys the community of men in family, friendship, and the social group. They fulfill some fundamental strivings for life; therefore, they are pleasure and give joy of life. . . .

But Jesus, in contrast to John the Baptist, was called a glutton and a drunkard by His critics. In all these warnings against pleasure, truth is mixed with untruth. Insofar as they strengthen our responsibility, they are true; insofar as they undercut our joy, they are wrong. Therefore let me give another criterion for accepting or rejecting pleasures, the criterion indicated in our text: Those pleasures are good which go together with joy; those are bad which prevent joy. . . .

Joy is more than pleasure; and it is more than happiness. Happiness is a state of mind which lasts for a longer or shorter time and is dependent on many conditions, external and internal. . . . Happiness can stand a large amount of pain and lack of pleasure. But happiness cannot stand the lack of joy. For joy is the expression of our essential and central fulfillment.

Blessedness is the eternal element in joy, that which makes it possible for joy to include in itself the sorrow out of which it arises, and which it takes into itself. In the Beatitudes, Jesus calls the poor, those who mourn, those who hunger and thirst, those who are persecuted, "blessed." And He says to them: "Rejoice and be glad!" Joy within sorrow is possible to those who are blessed, to those in whom joy has the dimension of the eternal. . . .

This cannot be otherwise, for blessedness is the expression of God's eternal fulfillment. Blessed are those who participate in this fulfillment here and now. Certainly eternal fulfillment must be seen not only as eternal which is present, but also as eternal which is future. But if it is not seen in the present, it cannot be seen at all. . . .

Where there is joy, there is fulfillment. And where there is fulfillment, there is joy. In fulfillment and joy the inner aim of life, the meaning of creation, and the end of salvation, are attained.

I do not walk the world in ecstasy, or perpetual joy but I strive to. No, "strive" isn't the right word. Maybe I should say, I "yearn" to because I have been fortunate enough to experience it. Joy is a state of grace, and you don't achieve it by striving. But that's another sermon ;-)

What I am trying to say is that I want this Web site to be a reflection of that yearning, of that state of grace, of joy for you and for me. And so I named it "Give you joy," for that is my wish.

Yes, there are things in the world that pain me and bring sorrow and yes, I write about them here but through it all I try to keep a perspective of the deeper joy of living and I continuously look for that greater joy and hope that I can share that experience somehow with the visitors to this site. If nothing else, I hope that the title - and this little essay about it - borrowing as it does so heavily from Paul Tillich will perhaps open up your mind and heart to a new depth of meaning in a very old expression give you joy, my friend give you joy.

Greg Stone, Westport, MA, May 2003

Joy, Quakers and the Boston Taliban

More Tillich resources:

Greg Stone Email me: greg@giveyoujoy.net Updated May 31, 2003