Photo of a bride's face in a mirror. She wears a pearl pendant and looks to the side with a small smile on her face. Words over the top: Songs of the Spirit: joy. Faith in Grey Places

Songs of the Spirit: joy (a poem)

This is part of a series of poems on the virtues described as the fruit the spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. Honestly, I didn’t know where I was going to begin with today’s poem. 

I’d been told plenty of times before that joy is not the same as happiness and that you can have joy even when you’re not happy. As I wrestled to make sense of this, I concluded that joy must be like a sense of inner security that one carries in all circumstances. But isn’t that what peace is about?

I think joy is much more about delight and appreciation.

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Joy can express itself in outgoing exuberance (rejoicing), but it can also be quiet and understated. And I think it transcends mood because with joy, people are able to appreciate goodness, whatever their circumstances. 

As I dug through my concordance, I found that the Greek word for joy is chara / χαρά. It means “joy, rejoicing, happiness, gladness.” Its root is in the verb chairo / χαίρω, meaning “to rejoice, be glad, be delighted” and chairo is also the root for charis / χάρις which means “grace” and of course charisma / χάρισμα meaning “gracious gift.” 

I was intrigued to learn that “joy” and “grace” were such closely related words and I find it helpful to think of their common root as being delight, though of course they have their differences. Joy is a feeling that gets evoked when you encounter something that delights you. Grace is an attitude of favour that you give towards someone else – who may or may not deserve it. 

When C.S. Lewis wrote about joy, he was adamant that joy is not the same as pleasure: 

“I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again… 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.” 

― C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life

I feel like there’s something in what Lewis was saying, though I find it hard to separate pleasure from enjoyment. To enjoy something is to feel a kind of pleasure. I think the point to take home is that joy can only emerge where there is freedom of agency. That is why, as Lewis observes, it can never be controlled. 

This also suggests a difference between “pleasure” and “being pleased.” I believe it was joy that the Father expressed at Jesus’s baptism when the voice said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Mt 3:17) Here, being “pleased” was about enduring delight, not a passing pleasure.

In today’s poem, I tried to capture the tirelessness of joy and my desire to be a cause of joy to God. I also wanted to bring out the idea of treasure, to echo Jesus’s parable in Matthew 13:44: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.”

Songs of the Spirit: joy

You are the delight that never goes away.
Each day, everyday, l appreciate you.
I delve your depths and discover your treasures
Wide-eyed in wonder and fascination,
Forever I am reminded of your goodness.

You are the giver who keeps on giving,
The precious cup that never stops brimming.
With you, anticipation never ebbs away.
Familiar and beloved, like a childhood story,
You are well-worn, yet never tire with age.

Make me like you.

May I be a rest for your attention.
A cause for you to linger and smile,
A splash of brightness in your infinite day.
May I be one who pleases more than a pleasure,
Like the one in whom your delight endures.

Sharing another picture from artist Helen Yousaf that reminded me of the themes of this poem. It’s title is “Worshipper” and the image is on her Facebook page and another version of it on her Instagram profile.

I chose this picture thinking of something else that C.S. Lewis said: 

“Praise is the mode of love which always has some element of joy in it.”

Prints of this image are available for purchase on her website here.

Helen kindly said I was free to share so long as I’m sharing hope. Her website shop is here: Helen-Yousaf-Art.

Oil painting. Coloured background with a woman painted in white brushstrokes looking up and arms outstretched. Original art by Helen Yousaf.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

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