One of my favorite seasonal readings is from a letter written to a friend by Fra Giovanni Giocondo (1435-1515), an architect, engineer, scholar, friar and Renaissance man. In his letter, despite difficult political and social conditions, he pens a very humanist message. He encourages his friend to contemplate life below surfaces, and then to act: take heaven! Take peace! Take joy!
Isn’t it odd that despite the difficulties we find ourselves in the middle of, our lives are still laced with feelings of warmth and joy? And that sometimes our deepest joy actually arises out of the midst of our trouble and struggle? It’s astonishing, but I also recall that Rabbi Nachman of Breslov once said, “God’s joy runs in our blood.” I think he meant that joy is a way that the Sacred says hello to us, and that this is something that takes place within us, inherently; it is not far removed at a distance. This might be human consciousness at work. Or it might be that some ultimate goodness or love beyond ourselves is breaking into our lives, our world through us. As Unitarian Universalists we each make our own meaning out this, out of our own lived experience. “We need not think alike to love alike.” Or, it seems, to marvel and be glad alike!
I’m also struck by how often in the biographies of people who have really struggled, especially against great oppression, that they often write about the deep joy that arises in their lives in the midst of the overwhelming odds stacked against them. And that it’s joy that sustained their will to live and press on for justice. Which means that joy is no frivolous escape; it’s essential fuel for the long journey.
And so this late December, in this year of pandemic, outrageous racial injustice, climate disasters, and political debacles of too many varieties, I am savoring joy, and relishing it every time it arises. Not as an escape but as fuel for the journey. And my hope this winter holiday season is that you, too, take joy!
With faith, hope, love, and joy,
Take Joy, Fra Giovanni Giacondo
I salute you. I am your friend, and my love for you goes deep. There is nothing I can give you which you have not. But there is much, very much, that, while I cannot give it, you can take. No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today. Take heaven! No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instant. Take peace! The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. There is radiance and glory in darkness, could we but see. And to see, we have only to look. I beseech you to look!
Life is so generous a giver. But we, judging its gifts by their covering, cast them away as ugly or heavy or hard. Remove the covering, and you will find beneath it a living splendor, woven of love by wisdom, with power. Welcome it, grasp it, and you touch the angel’s hand that brings it to you. Everything we call a trial, a sorrow or a duty, believe me, that angel’s hand is there. The gift is there and the wonder of an overshadowing presence. Your joys, too, be not content with them as joys. They, too, conceal diviner gifts. Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of beauty beneath its covering, that you will find earth but cloaks your heaven. Courage then to claim it; that is all! But courage you have, and the knowledge that we are pilgrims together, wending through unknown country home.