However, we know that joy isn’t simply the enjoyment of good things, experiences or feelings. In my struggle to articulate the essence of joy, I keep coming back to an essay by poet and community gardener Ross Gay, called “”Joy is such a human madness”: The duff between us.” I’d like to share it with you (I tried to pick out a few lines and just couldn’t.)
“…In healthy forests, which we might imagine to exist mostly above ground, and be wrong in our imagining, given as the bulk of the tree, the roots, are reaching through the earth below, there exists a constant communication between those roots and mycelium, where often the ill or weak or stressed are supported by the strong and surplused.
By which I mean a tree over there needs nitrogen, and a nearby tree has extra, so the hyphae (so close to hyphen, the handshake of the punctuation world), the fungal ambulances, ferry it over. Constantly. This tree to that. That to this. And that in a tablespoon of rich fungal duff (a delight: the phrase fungal duff, meaning a healthy forest soil, swirling with the living the dead make) are miles and miles of hyphae, handshakes, who get a little sugar for their work. The pronoun who turned the mushrooms into people, yes it did. Evolved the people into mushrooms.
Because in trying to articulate what, perhaps, joy is, it has occurred to me that among other things — the trees and mushrooms have shown me this — joy is the mostly invisible, the underground union between us, you and me, which is, among other things, the great fact of our life and the lives of everyone and thing we love going away. If we sink a spoon into that fact, we will find it teeming. It will look like all the books ever written. It will look like all the nerves in a body. We might call it sorrow, but we might call it a union, one that, once we notice it, once we bring it into the light, might become flower and food. Might be joy.” *
To me, this means that there is joy to be found in the common human experience of being mortal and vulnerable. Joy in knowing that we are not independent, and simultaneously, that we are not alone. As I think about Mary, and who she carried in her womb, it occurs to me that one of the greatest gifts that came with the birth of Jesus was that He shared in our vulnerability. He now knows first hand what it means to be dependent and needy. Because Emmanuel (“God with us”) shared in our vulnerability, we have the joy of knowing that we truly are not alone.
The loneliness and vulnerability that have accompanied COVID seem to have come as a shock to many people; those of us who are materially well-resourced are not always used to acknowledging our vulnerability and dependence on others. Many of my friends in Parkdale, however, have know these truths for a long time. They are my teachers in the joy of interdependence, mutual support, raw and honest prayers, and knowing that it’s okay to not be okay.
I feel like these this two part blog has been a bit rambly, so thanks for sticking with me. Advent Joy in the midst of a pandemic. It’s complex, but it’s real and good. I pray for that Joy for you this week.
* Gay, R. (2019) The Book of Delights. Thomas Allen & Son Limited.