Friday, June 24, 2005

A Capacity for Joy

Charles Williams wrote of a character in one of his novels: “her incapacity for joy admitted fear, and fear had imposed separation. She knew now that all acts of love are the measure of capacity for joy; its measure and its preparation, whether the joy comes or delays.” I’ve never heard before that acts of love are the measure of capacity for joy, and I’m not quite sure what to make of it, but perhaps you’ll permit me here to think aloud just a bit.

First of all, it seems clear enough that where there is no joy it will be easy for fear to fill that void. Fear always imposes some sort of separation from what is feared (if only a hoped-for separation). Such a separation will not only refuse to admit joy, but love as well, since love is about union, not separation.

But what about love and joy? What about the capacity for joy as the basis for acts of love? There is certain good sense to this, since joyless love would be something of a contradiction in terms. Perhaps a capacity for joy is a capacity for life, the abundant life that Jesus came to give. So if we are walking in the Holy Spirit and trying to live the Gospel of Jesus, to live is to love, and to love is to rejoice.

But are acts of love always carried out in joy? Often enough, to love is to suffer (or to sacrifice, anyway), and the personal cost of acts of true love can be quite high. Williams didn’t say, however, that “feeling happy” is the basis for acts of love, but a “capacity for joy.” Joy has to find room to dwell within us, like peace, which may dwell at a very deep and almost imperceptible level. The feeling of joy may “come or delay,” but in order to be able to act with love, we must be able to rejoice. True joy--which is not the same thing as the experience of pleasure or of other things we have been taught to associate with happiness--is really more akin to true love than we may have thought.

In the Kingdom to come, perfect love will have cast out all fear, and love will be full of joy, and joy will be full of love. In the meantime, why don’t you pray for a greater capacity for joy? You may discover that acts of love come much more easily. What have you got to lose?