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Vicar's Musings for Ordinary Sunday 29

20 October, 2013

One of the books I have been reading during my recent study leave in England is Bishop Robert Morneau's Growing in Joy (NY: New City Press, 2006). He describes joy as a virtue: "Joy is more than an effect, it is also a cause, a patterned, disciplined action that when habitual, is a virtue" (p. 7). I imagine we all know joy as an effect, a gift; it is irrepressible, like the spring blossom, surging up from within, an outpouring of God's grace. I experienced this kind of joy at the end of last month as I checked in at Canterbury Lodge in England. Professor Marty Seligman, Director of the Positive Psychology Centre at the University of Pennsylvania, had invited me to a colloquium entitled: "Prospective Psychology: Being Called into the Future."

The guest list alone created a joyful anticipation: Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew congregations of the Commonwealth; Serene Jones, President of Union Theological Seminary in New York; Thérèse Rein, Founder and Managing Director of Ingeus, an international employment service working particularly with socially and financially excluded people (accompanied by her spouse Kevin!); Robert Wright, journalist, author, and Pulitzer Prize finalist, listed by Foreign Policy magazine as one of the top 100 global thinkers; Harold Ellens, minister, author, former Executive Director of the Christian Association for Psychological Studies, Founding Editor and Editor in Chief of the Journal of Psychology and Christianity. The next four days were full of joy as we shared our papers and life-stories, explored possible places of intersection between psychology and theology, and worshipped together in Canterbury Cathedral. It was a profoundly rich and joyful experience.

Joy comes so naturally and effortlessly in and through our exciting mountaintop experiences. This is as true for us as a church community as it is for individuals. How joyful was the recent Blessing of the Animals, or the launch of our Catholic Evangelism programme on the Feast of the Assumption, or the Patronal Festival? The tanks are filled and we are truly refreshed in body, mind, and spirit; but what about the dark valleys, the empty places, the monotony and hard slog of the everyday? I think Bishop Morneau has hit the nail on the head when he describes joy as a virtue, a habit, a cause as much as an effect. He quotes the great spiritual director, writer and mystic Evelyn Underhill (p. 32):

As his life drew toward its close, Paul seems to have felt more and more the holy character of joy. Philippians, his last epistle, is full of joy. It drenches every line of that glorious little letter, written from prison in the shadow of death. And ever since Paul's day, joy, which is the very colour of holiness, has been the one quality the Church has always demanded from her saints. This is inevitable, for it is the mark of perfect consecration, the mysterious result of that complete surrender and death of self which is sanctity. Joy is not a luxury, it is a duty of the soul.
Faithful God, reveal to us today the road to joy.
When we are lost and anxious, about almost everything,
You come to guide us home. Be our daily companion.
Then we will know, by your presence, the joy that comes from love.
Grant this through Jesus, who is the Way. Amen.

The Rev'd Dr Hugh Kempster

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