Wednesday, October 18, 2006

To want is to have

This blog is about rain and joy and the way things sometimes fall into place so you get just what you need when you need it. I'm not talking about manna falling from heaven here. I mean things that would have been there with or without you, so the miracle lies in whatever led you to see what you needed and then go find it.

Though maybe it is like manna from heaven, since God didn't send bread until the Israelites complained in their own grumpy way about how hungry they were.

Following? Let me go back to yesterday and I'll explain.

It was a rainy, rainy day. At lunchtime the campus looked so deserted you might have thought we were on break. I didn't think anyone would make it through the rain to the chapel for the Tuesday afternoon Episcopal service. I was tempted to skip it myself. I thought I was tired of it. I was tired in general. I didn't want to be there with just one or two others. I expected it to be even gloomier than usual inside the chapel, which is beautiful but does tend to be dark. But I couldn't put it out of my mind and so at 4:20 I found myself slopping through puddles in that direction, and when I arrived, I found perhaps double the usual attendance, my favorite presider (not what it had said in the email reminder they sent out), the light seemed brighter than ever and I experienced a more intense level of something--joy?--than I had been feeling lately.

I was still thinking about that feeling when I got home and started the reading for this morning's class and found this about joy:

It might seem strange to stress the significance of joy for the Christian life, since we normally associate joy with the momentary response to the unexpected. Joy, we think is spontaneous but has little staying power. It cannot sustain us over the long haul. But the joy we receive as Christians is not that of a passing occasion. Rather it is a joy that derives from finding our true home among a people who carry the words and skills of God's kingdom of peace. That such a people are joyful does not mean they think that their struggle is over, for their sense of the tragic character of our existence cannot allow any shallow optimism or sentimentality. Rather their joy is possible because of their assurance that they are at least in the right struggle.

Stanley Hauerwas
The Peaceable Kingdom: A Primer in Christian Ethics

Interesting, I said to myself, but I'm not sure that's what I'm thinking about. Maybe what I'm feeling is indeed "a response to the unexpected"--the discovery, no less surprising because we experience it over and over again, that God loves us.

I considered that idea for a while, and eventually I remembered reading a book by C.S. Lewis called Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life. I'm not that much of a Lewis fan (heresy, I know) but this one I liked. I read it a long time ago, and what struck me at the time was his description of something he called "Joy," a feeling I recognized immediately but had never seen described in quite the same way anyplace else. How had I forgotten this book for so long? I wanted to read it again. I wanted to have it as a book I could flip through and write in, but I was so eager to see it I was willing to settle for an ebook download--but there were none to be had online. Eventually, when I took the dog out for the last rainy walk of the night, I decided to take my wallet and wander as far as the bookstore.

I live in an interesting little town, a place where things tend to close down early but if you are looking for joy the two things you can still buy late on a rainy evening mid-week are a drink or a book. I passed on the drink but was thrilled to find the bookstore still open when I got there. I dragged the wet dog in (she had no idea what it was about but she gets excited about any new adventure), told the clerk what I wanted, and was on my way home with book in hand (or more precisely, fortunately, in a big waterproof bag) five minutes later. Ask, and it shall be sold to you. (It wasn't terribly expensive, as a matter of fact.)

... an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and from Pleasure. Joy (in any sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced will want it again. Apart from that, and considered only in its quality, it might almost equally well be called a particular kind of unhappiness or grief. But then it is a kind we want. I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is.

Later, he says, "the very nature of Joy makes nonsense of our common distinction between having and wanting. There, to have is to want and to want is to have."

Yes, that's it for sure. I'm looking forward to reading more. I told the clerk in bookstore how great I think it is to live in a town where the bookstore stays open for anyone who happens to need a book late on a rainy evening, and she sort of shrugged and said nothing; it's a line I'm sure she's heard before. I trust my thanks to God were more graciously received.

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