Archive for June 18th, 2017

Euphoria In Excelsis Deo
June 18, 2017

In Your presence is fullness of joy.
—Psalm 16:11

So there I am one random morning some twenty years ago. I’m serving Cheerios to my three little kids (the fourth not yet arrived) who are perched on our ratty old bar stools in their rumpled pajamas. It’s a morning no different than any other, a morning shaped by those casual, comforting rituals so familiar to families with small children. But on this morning, as I absently push the bowls across the counter, I am suddenly engulfed by a powerful and astonishing bliss. It materializes out of nowhere, a luminous cloud of pure joy that literally swallows me whole. I steady myself and with delirious amazement watch my kids innocently spoon cereal into their mouths. Every motion, every drip of milk, the very air itself is infused with incandescent ecstasy. Somehow the meaning and purpose of all creation have converged in this moment and space—to this kitchen on this morning. I am astounded. I am exalted. I am transfigured. And then the moment passes, the bright cloud dissipates, the kids finish their Cheerios, and the morning settles back into a peaceful, quiet ordinary.

I haven’t experienced anything exactly like it since. Oh, I’ve often experienced a quieter delight prompted by a lovely day or good company or even simple gratitude; still, there have been other moments when a rushing joy blossomed in me unexpected and unprompted, an insistent bliss that came out of nowhere for no particular reason, an unwarranted, untranslatable effervescence. As C. S. Lewis has noted, the profoundest, most numinous joy is nearly always surprising and often wholly inexplicable.

I remember my first trip to Moscow, Russia. One day I explored the renowned Metro, the lavish underground transit system. Though its original grandeur had faded, I could still sense the Soviet attempt to capture in its arches, tile work, and chandeliers a sense of Slavic glory. The effect, however, was a pervasive melancholy, a failed attempt, by engineering and artistry, to realize an apotheosis of the human spirit. That melancholy was also in the faces of the Muscovites on the trains. The passengers sat in silence, staring vacantly before them. There were no conversations, no exchange of glances, no smiles. That same evening I spoke at a small Christian church on the far west side of Moscow’s sprawling metropolis. We met in some rented hole that was cold and spare. But unlike the opulent underground I’d ridden earlier, this place was brilliant with laughter and shining faces. These people were hardscrabble Russians who’d weathered the brutal climate of a police state and the collapse of their proud empire. Like the rest of their countrymen they trudged every day through scarcity and uncertainty. And yet here they were, unreasonably gleaming like brightly polished silver.

Unreasonable joy is a consuming experience of sheer transcendence. It’s a super-reality that supplants its lesser sibling, a radical phase-shift from the sanctioned, steadfast continuity in which we live and die, to a charged hyper-actuality that subsumes and transfigures everything. Joy is a hit of pure, incandescent being aflame in its own ether, a bright enveloping cloud of utter unity where the finite and the infinite become one, where the self and the divine become each other.

I know, of course, that my grasping attempt to articulate all this is doomed to fail. An inspired Apostle Peter simply points to an inexpressible and glorious joy that is no less than a foretaste of the soul’s salvation. Its inexpressible nature is the very hallmark of a special people who, through faith, actually participate in the divine nature. As Jesus tells his disciples, “These things I have spoken to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” Quite simply, joy is what it’s like to be God.

And the astonishing thing is that it can indeed be found.

At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.”
—Luke 10:21


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