Where did our joy go?

Jumping for joy!

On Sunday at church we had a very gloomy-doomy sermon. Lent. Repentance. Giving up things we enjoy. Evil. Sackcloth. Temptation. Ashes.

Look, I know that if you choose to follow this mad religion of mine, you’re signing up for a certain amount of tragedy. It is, after all, based on sin and salvation. The symbol of our faith is an instrument of torture.

But there must be a balance to be had between the determinedly cheerful “happy clappy” variety of Christian and the lugubrious, pious, eyes downcast version.

Running up the aisle

This was brought home to me at the part of the service when we lined up to take communion. As the priest stood before the altar waiting for the faithful to process up the aisle, a little girl of about three appeared at the back of the church near where I was sitting. I heard her say something to her mother about “going to see Jesus”. She was dancing and skipping, hardly able to contain the joy singing out of every pore of her body. She started to run – yes run! – up the aisle towards the priest.

Well this was too much for her poor mother, who with a couple of strides grabbed the little girl by the wrist and forced her to quiescence by her side. She held the child back to allow others to go first, and then they walked up the aisle together. Slowly. By this time the little girl was exuding not joy but a kind of sombre, disappointed puzzlement.

I couldn’t help thinking that the carpenter in whose name this was all taking place would have delighted in that little girl running, jumping and giggling straight into his arms.

It isn’t only religion

It isn’t only in religion that we lose our joy. Did you play that game when you were little of galloping down the street pretending you were a horse? Yes, me too. Faster and faster, until I could feel the wind in my mane.

Growing up damps down that child-like wonder and wildness. We learn to behave ourselves. That socialisation starts very early. (And it seems to me earlier and earlier now, and in more sinister ways, but that’s another discussion.)

Grown-up joy?

So how do we manage to be adult and joyful at the same time? How do we regain that childlike unselfconsciousness?

Oh, did you think I was going to answer my own question? No, not right now, I want to know what you think first. Please tell us in the comments.

Photo credit: jody mcnary

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19 Responses to Where did our joy go?
  1. Poppy
    February 28, 2012 | 1:19 pm

    I’m home educating my four year old son and feel more joyful and less self-conscious every day ! :0)
    Poppy recently posted..Weekly UpdateMy Profile

  2. Karen
    February 28, 2012 | 2:20 pm

    I haven’t the faintest idea because somehow I managed to stay out of the somber track.I pay for it nearly everyday but it is essential for my mental and spiritual life… so I turn it around and ask .. how can you help people like me feel you are safe enough to encourage a test – toe dip – off that somber path? Too many times I have seen those who delight in my delight and next moment begin to squash it(my delight). Isn’t that what happens to our young? (I understand and let it roll off but they usually don’t) – Are we that afraid?
    Karen recently posted..Shakespeare’s SnowMy Profile

    • Tess Giles Marshall
      February 28, 2012 | 8:24 pm

      Karen, I’m very happy you’ve managed to stay off the somber track, and what a great way to turn it around to look at this. Yes, I think it probably is fear.

  3. Sarah
    February 28, 2012 | 8:52 pm

    Even in the Gospels, it says: “‘We played the flute for you, and you didn’t dance. We mourned for you, and you didn’t lament.” For the first time, thinking about that saying, I realize that it is the depth of emotion, that we block out, not just skipping up the aisle, but just as big a no-no is admitting our pain. If we can weep aloud, we can manage to be adult and joyful at the same. First weep, then rejoice, if one side opens up, the other can be set free gloriously. It happened to me recently with a friend.

    • Tess Giles Marshall
      February 28, 2012 | 11:34 pm

      Sarah, I think you’re absolutely right about depth of emotion. And that’s something childlike, isn’t it? Children express grief openly and fully.

  4. Barbara
    February 28, 2012 | 10:22 pm

    Perhaps this is why Jesus said we need to become as little children. And refocusing our faith from the “sin and salvation” theme to the “God’s love and love one another, even your enemies” theme would be very helpful. I think some people are doing this and rediscovering the Gospel.
    Barbara recently posted..Puddle DucksMy Profile

    • Tess Giles Marshall
      February 28, 2012 | 11:34 pm

      Exactly, Barbara. Love it what it’s all about for me.

  5. WOL
    February 28, 2012 | 10:42 pm

    I apologize in advance for being blunt, but you did ask, and this is my answer:
    That’s part of my quarrel with your religion, that it is so focused on sin and guilt and thou shalt not’s. That it’s symbol is a person being tortured to death in a cruel and barbaric way only underscores the trope of sacrifice and atonement, that only through pain and suffering can you be purified and become worthy. They hang the crucified Christ over the sacrificial altar so they can point to it and remind you over and over, see what you did? You should be ashamed! A religion that requires you to beat your breast and say mea culpa, my fault, and because it is your fault, you have to be punished. A religion where its believers are continually having to ask for mercy. Even communion is all about guilt. “broken for you” “spilt for you.” The trope of sacrificing precious things on an altar to propitiate an angry god is not all that different in my mind from the paganism this religion is supposed to have supplanted. Even the protestants with their empty cross are still all about guilt and sin and suffering. And don’t even get me started on the concept of “original sin.” Whatever happened to the Christ who helped people up off the ground, brushed them off, and said, “Let’s try that again.” Whatever happened to grace?

    Why can’t we have a religion where the trinity is a loving father, a loving mother, and a beloved child, where grace is a gift freely given to all, worthy or not, where receiving the gift of grace creates the desire to become worthy of it, not by pain and suffering, but by sharing with others the grace that was given to you. One that doesn’t cast blame, demand punishment, or need a big thick book of rules. One that has only one commandment: Love (agape) one another. The symbol of that religion would be the dove descending with an olive branch in its bill.

    As far as I’m concerned, I’m not put here in the world to suffer, or atone, or be purified, or punished. And especially, I wasn’t put here to have dominion over it. I was put into this world to be a part of it, to appreciate it and care for it. The joy is how you know you’re doing it right.
    WOL recently posted..WordsMy Profile

    • Tess Giles Marshall
      February 28, 2012 | 11:38 pm

      WOL, you describe perfectly first the elements of Christianity (the institutional religion) that I and so many struggle with and second the Christianity (the essence) which is all about love and beauty. And I couldn’t agree with you more about not having dominion over the world.

    • Karen
      February 29, 2012 | 2:28 am

      yes WOL! yes! that is how I see my spiritual world – which not surprisingly is in the here and now – in compassion and connection.
      Karen recently posted..Shakespeare’s SnowMy Profile

    • Jane
      February 29, 2012 | 2:05 pm

      “The joy is how you know you’re doing it right.” I love that!

  6. Barbara
    February 29, 2012 | 3:29 am

    WOL, I think you’ll find lots of people who agree with you! Sadly, I don’t think they will be leaders of the institution. Fear and guilt are wonderful ways to maintain control over others.
    Barbara recently posted..Leaping AboutMy Profile

  7. Alison Wiley
    February 29, 2012 | 1:26 pm

    Glad to report I’ve still got my joy at 51 . . . and I’m even a practice the dreaded religion based on sacrifice. Here are some things that trigger my joy: being in nature; singing hymns in church (especially when I can pull off a harmony line); playing with children (don’t happen to have any of my own); reading juicy, uplifting things (good novels and PM rate high here); dancing, running and hiking; community meals; giving and receiving help from others — the teamwork triggers the joy.

    As a liberal Christian, I see our religion differently from some. I’ve never fixated on the guilt, sin, gloom or doom aspects — but I’m not in denial about these, either. It’s life itself that has this dark side, whether or not you’re religious.

    I think it’s our current mainstream culture, more than Christianity, that has lost its way, because the mainstream culture preaches instant gratification through endless consumption. That’s a disastrous way to live — for human beings, other creatures and the planet in general. It weakens and coarsens us, and is destructive. Christianity, like some other religions, tells us there’s something greater than ourselves and our immediate pleasure to reach for. Life does involve some discomfort, delayed gratification, and even sacrifice. Jesus teaches us about those things. Thank heavens, of course, we don’t all have to go through what he went through.

    And Jesus did embrace children. I agree with you that he would have welcomed the excited three-year-old in your church right into his loving arms.
    Alison Wiley recently posted..Best Community Meal: Enchilada CasseroleMy Profile

    • Tess Giles Marshall
      February 29, 2012 | 8:43 pm

      Alison, your comment about life itself having a dark side is spot on. And I love your descriptions of what gives you joy.

  8. Kel
    March 1, 2012 | 9:32 am

    wow Tess
    this post grabbed me in the guts
    in my heart and soul i am that little girl
    but i found the dour-faced, funereal focused, thou-shalt-not-have-fun or ‘how we behave when we go to church’ police just sucked the life out of me
    so it’s been a long time since i stepped into a church aisle

    but to answer your question of how we cultivate grown up joy:
    when i want to let my inner-kidlet out for a run…. i make scarecrows, play tag with the dog, paint prayers and hide them in jars around my property …

    and most importantly, by allowing others to see me do that (make a fool of myself first), i think it invites or encourages others to explore their own inner kidlet

    • Tess Giles Marshall
      March 1, 2012 | 5:36 pm

      I’ve found over the years that there are churches and there are churches!
      I LOVED your scarecrow photo, and am completely intrigued by this idea of hiding prayers in jars around your property.

  9. helena
    March 1, 2012 | 2:40 pm

    Can’t wait to read the book! I collect Children’s illustrated books and will see if this one is still in print. They teach me so much about life. While several of my posts review books the one that I think about while reading your delightful post is The Mountain the loved a Bird. The name of the bird is Joy, and the mountain must break open from loneliness and pain before his rocky surface becomes hospitable to the seeds for flowers dropped by Joy on her annual fly-overs. thanks for sharing.
    helena recently posted..Stopping a Moment in a Busy DayMy Profile

    • Tess Giles Marshall
      March 1, 2012 | 5:37 pm

      I love the sound of the Mountain book and the bird named Joy – beautiful!