Always: Goad to Joy

“Be Joyful Always” is today’s Catholic instruction for Advent*.

That’s a tough one. What about the moments, or whole days of moments, when I suspect myself of so many wrong turns? How am I to be joyful about the times I couldn’t, the times I didn’t, the times I turned one way rather than another, based on what hindsight reveals as the flimsiest of considerations?

Always is a tall order.

‘Well, at least you’re not ____’ is one of the standard admonitions trotted out in service of a command to be joyful. How can any decent person use that as a goad to joy? It means someone, somewhere, is whatever fills in that dreadful blank, and it would be unseemly to take joy in their misfortune, for surely, in this all-related world, they are me as well.

And don’t even get me started on the proposition that that reciprocates into a good thing, that I should be joyful that my good fortune means it’s possible even for _____.

Perhaps there can never be a reason pure enough to justify ‘always’ as a command. In the same way, it’s aspirational status is suspect.

Be Joyful Always as an aspiration is meaningless, and perhaps downright creepy, if it depends on any performative notion of what ‘joyful’ is. As well to aspire to a good fake frown as to a convincing perma-smile. Everyone of us recognises that perma-smile for what it is, a threat of impending attack and/or a signal of grave imbalance. And who among us would truly aspire to lose the ability to care? Who would aspire not to feel rage at injustice, sadness at loss, compassion when confronted with suffering? Performative joy is the worst face of the aspirational version of Be Joyful Always.

Perhaps ‘always’ can only ever be justified as a wish. As a wish – Be Joyful Always – it’s not too shabby. One can distinguish it from ‘be goofy always’ or ‘be oblivious always’ or ‘be smug, grasping, self-absorbed in your pursuit of feelgood for you always.’

Be Joyful Always, on consideration, wishes for the blessing of a wellspring of love and inspiration, an abiding grace that carries us through all life’s changing fortunes, that reminds us, however inadequately we play our part, so long as we exist, we are part of the Big Ceremony. Joy is the engine of that, from the atomic to the cosmic level, an exchange of energy, give and take, rock and roll, hand in hand, pass it along, joy.

May we be, whatever comes, joyful always. Even you bastards who’ve ill-used me, offended me, stolen from me, lied about me, trod upon my physical and spiritual toes with unholy glee (that perversion of joy)? Yeah, sure, probably, possibly even you. Likewise, you who feel that I have done wrong to you. It doesn’t indemnify you, nor me, from making amends wherever we need to; but until we can, if we ever can, in the meanwhile, why not Be Joyful Always?

* from the Catholic Medical Mission Board’s online Advent Calendar, which you can download for free; if you wish, you can reciprocate by donating to support their work. See earlier posts to learn why I’m writing this advent.

If you like these posts, please also consider donating, in the memory of Albina Sewell, to Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton; her chosen charity for memorials is not religiously affiliated, but serves all children.

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