Inner Life

Yearning for joy in a world of pain

By Muriel Porter

March 9 2016The church and the world are dying for want of joy because the refusal of joy is the refusal of God, according to Canberra theologian the Revd Dr Sarah Bachelard.

God’s presence “provokes rejoicing”, so that enjoyment, “far from being an irresponsible and dispensable practice”, is a “sign of our redemption and of our communion with the true source of our life”, said Ms Bachelard, pictured, in a lecture she gave on 3 March at St John’s Camberwell.

Dr Bachelard, an Anglican priest, is the author of a major book on the Resurrection – Resurrection and Moral Imagination (Ashgate, 2014) – and leader of Benedictus Contemplative Church, a Canberra ecumenical community.

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Joy, she said, is “what happens when God is near” in both the Hebrew and Christian traditions. The prophet Isaiah proclaims that the Messiah will bring immense joy, while joy figures prominently in the New Testament, from the angel’s greeting to Mary to Jesus’ expectation that his message will bring joy, to St Paul’s exhortation to ‘rejoice in the Lord’. The life of the first Christian community “is conducted in the key of joy”, she said. Creation, she added, was “no grudging accomplishment” but both an “expression of God’s joy-filled life and the object of God’s rejoicing”.

However, living in “an essentially utilitarian culture”, we value our usefulness and our accomplishments rather than our joy. Yet as the 1647 Westminster Confession puts it, the “chief end” of humanity is “to glorify God and to enjoy God forever”. But how do we do this?

Dr Bachelard suggested two practices for entering into joy – acceptance of our lives, and by “risking delight”.

Accepting our lives as they are in this sense was not resignation, but “embrace”, recognizing the “extraordinary singularity” of our existence as “a matter for wonder and an experience of gift”. And by accepting our lives in what the Christian tradition calls “poverty of spirit”, we are “newly opened to the possibility of gift and delight”.

She continued: “ The paradox seems to be that fully accepting the gift God would give us of joy-full life involves a necessary letting go and relinquishment, the willingness to be dispossessed of life on our terms, so to receive what is actually offered”. This opens for us the possibility of “risking delight” when we are “willing to have a go in life”, abandoning ourselves to a vocation, relationship or cause wholeheartedly. This is a risk because nothing is guaranteed. In contrast, “self-protective instincts limit our participation in and reception of God’s joyous life”.

How can we rejoice when so many suffer? What “gets in the way of joy is not primarily suffering or sorrow, but alienation from the joyous life of God,” she explained, pointing to St Paul’s calls to the early Church to rejoice even though it was in the midst of persecution and suffering.

She concluded: “More and more I am convinced that joy isn’t a luxury”. Rather, it is “the only place from which we can hope truly to participate in bringing about God’s peace, liberty and justice”.

Click here to read the full lecture.