Joy Is Longing
“You have never had it…tantalizing glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear” (C. S. Lewis).
If there is one, distinct work in Eastertide, it is to meditate on joy. Lent was a desert. Christ went out into the desert, and we fasted in order to follow him. Now we have to leave the desert behind and join Him in the resurrection joy. Through these forty days of Pascha, we have work to do. We must learn to feast, not by gorging, not by overindulging, but by nurturing hearts of gratitude. Pascha is a season for cherishing God.
What is joy? C. S. Lewis discovered joy when he was a small boy looking out of his second story window. He and his brother were often shut indoors. They lived in a home in Ireland where it rained regularly, and his mother would not let them out for fear that they catch a cold. So they played indoors. If they were not drawing pictures of imaginative lands, the boy sat gazing out his window, longing for the mystery beyond. In that longing, he encountered joy.
“You have never had it,” he writes, “tantalizing glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear” (C. S. Lewis). We get stabs of joy. We see glimpses. We hear whispers. We feel touches. We cannot find home here, because we are all home sick. The heart longs for God. ‘My soul thirsts for you…in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Ps. 63:1). This is our job throughout Paschaltide. We must tap into that longing in our hearts. In the beauty, truth, and goodness around us, we must reach out for Christ.
“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (Jn. 20:19-21).
If you know the story, “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” you will remember when Aslan rises from the dead and breaks into the witch’s castle. It was a mausoleum of statues. All the good people had been turned to stone. Aslan breathes on each and every statue and dissolves the enchantment. The room once filled with death was now buzzing with life. The home where the disciples hid was a miserable place. Depression and fear dripped from the walls. They were men of stone. Yet, in walked Joy Himself. Christ appeared in the room offering peace.
Our world today is its own kind of mausoleum. We identify all to well with the disciples locked in fear. Terrorism, politics, and scandals have paralyzed our culture and we all feel it. We cling to consumerism like a child pulling a blanket over his head. The modern life has been called, “a flattened human universe where the escapes are boredom and distraction.” If we are honest, it is a life in which, “most of the time, the best ‘salvation’ we can hope for is found in behaviors that numb us…drugs, sex, entertainments…a suffocating immanence” (J. K. Smith). We all know this. We are all tugged into it. So, in the light of all this, what does Pascha bring us? There is a way out.
Our own soul can be a sort of mausoleum too. We become locked in worry and anxiety. We fear change, we grasp for control, quite simply, because our hearts have always been idolatrous. So we shut the doors of our hearts and remain frozen. This is why grumbling is such an offence to God. It is a sign of a broken soul. When we do not get life the way we want it, we reject the life the way God wants it. We focus on want we do not have. God wants us to be like children, in awe of all we do have. He offers us a Paschal banquet, to feast in our hearts on his grace. We must learn to cherish it. Pascha arrives as a shattering force. Christ has risen! The darkness has melted.
Wake up and smell the roses. That is the message of Pascha. St. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable if anything is excellent or praiseworthy think about such things” (4:8). Everyone knows this verse. It is one of those scriptures we like to hang on our wall, but rarely take to heart. Pascha is a time to run to it. Where is the beauty in your life? Where is the nobility? What is lovely and admirable? It is everywhere, if you are humble enough to see. Christ is risen from the dead and the resurrection light is piercing. We need only to open our hearts and receive.
This is why we have so much to be grateful for Doubting Thomas. We know Christ has risen, but sometimes it feels like we have plain missed him. So, our Lord breathes peace on the apostles, but that was a long time ago. What about us? “But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’ We all relate, do we not?
We are all Thomas. Thomas heard the news but he was not there himself. We have heard the news too, and we have also missed out. Faith has nothing to do with circumstances. Faith is a soul’s willingness to reach out. Thomas doubted in his heart. If we are honest, we also doubt. What matters is how you respond to that doubting? Do you ever wonder why there are so many atheists or agnostics in our times? It is not an intellectual issue. It is not a question of science or belief. It is because we are too fat and lazy. We are so comfortable with our little trinkets and distractions that we do not really care about much more. We are frozen, as the statues in the witch’s den were frozen. Thomas forever reminds us to reach beyond.
“A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’” (Jn. 20:21-31).
What must we do? God longs for us to touch him. We need only to reach out.
"Question the beauty of the earth,” St. Augustine says, “Question the beauty of the sea, question the beauty of the air, amply spread around everywhere, question the beauty of the sky, question the serried ranks of the stars, question the sun…question the moon…Question all these things. They all answer you, "Here we are, look; we're beautiful!' Their beauty is their confession. Who made these beautiful changeable things, if not one who is beautiful and unchangeable?"
We must strain our hearts to want God. Like a wife who prepares a meal for her husband hoping that he will feel her love and cherish it, God has laid out the whole universe as a banquet table for us. He simply wants us to treasure him. Whatever is good and noble, think of these things. Enjoy them and give back praise. Stand in prayer at the feet of Christ and cherish his presence. What is joy? Joy is the pursuit of God, so pursue Him.