Vitalogy: How Joy Explodes Our World With Meaning

Vitalogy: How Joy Explodes Our World With Meaning
Movement is a sign of life.
— John O'Donohue

A meditation on: 

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.

Joy signifies vitality. Think about the things in life you love deeply. You can't get enough of this thing. It things brings you considerable pleasure. The pleasurable moment begins a progression of deep meaning. 

Joy Ignites Pursuit

We often associate pleasure with joy. Some think the pursuit of pleasure leads to destruction. For C.S. Lewis, however, pleasure is more nuanced. He saw pleasure as a natural ally to joy. Taking pleasure in an object, such as a cup of coffee, acknowledges its value. So, there is an initial pleasurable reaction to the cup of coffee and, arguably, the pleasure ends there. For the pleasure seeker, pleasure represents the end goal. The danger and shallowness of such pursuit is self evident. 

For the joy seeker, pleasure draws our attention outward, beyond ourselves and leads to joy.

Lewis talked often about the pang of joy—an intense moment of delight. Joy is the “exhilarating moment when one is drawn out of oneself by the lure of something grander, higher, and elusive.” (Kort, Then & Now, 124)  

Think about the times you’ve watched the sun dip behind the horizon. What is it about this gasp of delight provided by a vision of beauty that enlivens our desire to capture the sunset on canvas, in a song, or in the retelling of an experience that ignited our imagination? The pleasant form is dynamic, alive, and it beckons. When we sense that mysterious vitality in the world we inhabit, we become hunters for its source. 

Joy reaches beyond mere feeling and reminds us that something deep within us resonates with our experiences of beauty in this world. Joy speaks of the life within life. It awakens our desire to discover the place where all the beauty comes from.

The Song of Joy

When we reach beyond pleasure, we discover the prismed world of joy. How often do you and I dip into this world? It is this world we collect and post upon social media. It is the resounding moment of life being lived. 

The nostalgic frame capturing first steps. The elegant collection of fine friends gathered in one place. The resounding landscape. 

We dip into joy's world, and we feel strangely at home. Do we have to leave the Blue Ridge Parkway just yet? Can't we drive a few more miles? Can't we stop for one more hike? Can't we explore that orchard? Can't we grab a few moments at that pub? Can't we? 

I will not allow the pace of this world to steal joy from me. I will pause. I will not allow the digital world to taint moments of wonder. I will not allow your pace to dictate mine. I live and breathe and have my being from the One beyond. 

What is this ambition that whispers lies in my ear? What is this ugly call to provoke, divide, and be heard? I refuse to listen to the gongs of a joyless world. I sing to the uncommon commonality of our holy moments. They remind me that joy's prismed world is not a destination. It is my now and evermore. How will I let it saturate the pace of a darkening world? 

Blare for me the sound of lightness; the cataract and the stomp; the echo and the likeness. Shout with me, O Pioneers, into the holy tempest; glory's power compressed into dainty thunder of everydayness.

I am joy's talon, shredding, digging, being; into in which before, below through and seeing. Rage sun, roll clouds, proclaim your surly wild; I ramble with you, me the broken and strong heaven child.

Sing with me, O Hunters, let our chorus lift; an everlasting raucous of rambling toward home. 

A Devotional Resource For You, From Me

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Timothy Willard is the author of three books, including Longing For More: Daily Reflections on Finding God in the Rhythms of Life. He has collaborated on over 20 books and has written, consulted and served as spiritual director for organizations such as Chick-fil-A, Catalyst, Q Ideas and Praxis Labs. He lived in Oxford, England for two years studying beauty in the works of C.S. Lewis. He earned his PhD in Theology under the supervision of world-renowned theologian Alister McGrath. When he’s not riding the trails in the Appalachian mountains you can find him by the fire with his three daughters and his wife making up stories about Tom the back yard badger. He lives somewhere in the south Charlotte woods.