Monday, June 15, 2015


   We are all born as natural poets and artists, with a deep sense of awe and wonder.  From the beginning of our lives, the whole world is new and exciting.  Every day, as a newborn child, we looked around and saw new things to be surprised about and wonder about:  the persons who turned out to be our mother, father and siblings, the colorful playthings in our crib, satisfying milk and food, the dangling mobile above our head, the family cat or dog, etc. In sum, we are all born with the joy of life.

   The God given gift of the joy of life is the awe and wonder of simply being alive.  It is always within us.  It is different from happiness, which I take to mean the satisfaction that follows from getting the things we want.  As Americans, we are not guaranteed happiness, but the right to pursue it.  The pursuit of happiness has its risks.  If we constantly, or primarily concern ourselves with getting the things we want, we run the risk of never being happy.  That's because we can place happiness over the horizon, e.g., always beyond the next thing we want.  Aristotle saw the problem and said that we can enjoy happiness every day by living a good and virtuous life.

   Even though the joy of life, like God, is always within us,it can be overshadowed and even crushed.  For example, our educational system carries that danger within it.  Part of the joy of life is the fact that we are all born with a desire to know, understand, and love--and most highly, to know, love and experience God, the Ultimate Source of our knowledge, understanding and love.  

   The desire to know, understand and love motivates children to study in school.  From the beginning, good teachers will give their children the information and knowledge they seek, while at the same time, ensuring that the information and knowledge is couched, not only in reason but also in the joy of awe and wonder.  Little experiences can keep the children's sense of awe and wonder alive.  Solving math examples can be joyful and wondrous; reading lessons can include imaginative stories and myths that carry a moral, life building message, e.g., the prudence of the pig who built his house of bricks.  Class can be stopped so the children can appreciate the fragrance of a spring shower or the white hush of the first snowfall.  As the children carry the joy of life within them, they will stay open to awe and wonder in all their life, and also to experiencing in their own way, the contemplative joy of God's presence within them and their society.

   As education progresses through the grades, it tends to become more factual, prosaic and scientific.  This of course is good and necessary.  But it can also become boring and life-deadening unless the subjects, and especially today's science, can be presented as the awesome and wondrous enterprises they are.

   To be fully joyful, education should be animated by the intellectual and moral disciplines that make us more human and beautiful, and that make the world more human and beautiful, e.g., justice, peace, respect, empathy and sympathy, trust, silence and solitude, study, respect for work and for nature, and most of all, all-encompassing love for self, others and the entire world.  Without becoming religious, education, like all else, should keep us open to experiencing God within us and our society, calling us from the future to grow and evolve toward ever deeper human maturity and wholeness in love.

  Sadly, much of our adult society and culture need to experience more fully the wondrous importance of the joy of life.  Today's families, workers, professionals, scientists, educators, et al., need to take the time and make the effort to ensure that their lives and work are animated by the joy of life.  "I hate my job," or, "Education is boring," or, I see only matter in my science and can't understand consciousness and life," or, "The best way to protect America is to fight more wars," etc., are alarming signs of the loss of the joy of life.  There is awe and wonder, art and beauty, in everything we do, and we must learn to see and appreciate these gifts that enhance the joy of life. 

   The loss of the joy of life also shows itself today in the need expressed especially by young people, "I want to be spiritual but not religious."  They see religion as failing to open to them the joy of life, and therefore, the joy of faith.  In our civil society, our pursuit of happiness is marked by greed, killing competition, self-serving politics, destruction of the climate, etc.  The people responsible for these human abasement have lost the joy of life and their experience of God, and with these losses, they all experience the loss of a basic part of their humanity.  Also, our society is made worse by those people who are reacting in fear and anger to the demographic changes now taking place, and by the unscrupulous politicians and radio and TV commentators who keep inciting these people to anger and fear, while they prey upon them for their own profit.

   Jesus especially blessed the "poor in spirit."  He meant the materially poor, but especially the poor who were so oppressed by the rich that they were depressed to the point of being in danger of losing their joy of life, and of their faith, thus losing a precious aspect of their humanity.  Today's humanly spiritless educators (especially at the university level), greedy, self-serving corporate leaders, and unscrupulous politicians and commentators are guilty of inflicting dehumanizing poverty of spirit on their students, customers, constituents, and on themselves.  All of them need Jesus' special blessing.  

   The afflicted need a deeper understanding of who they truly are and of the harm that is being done to them.  They need a new infusion of the joy of life and faith, of the strength that the joy gives them to overcome their afflictions.  The afflicters need a deep human conversion; they need to turn themselves and their work inside out to find the awe, wonder and humanity they are so crassly attacking, and turn to truly helping their followers.

   For those of us who see and understand the plight we're in today, there is much prophetic work to be done.  And that work itself is an important part of our own joy of life and faith.


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