Unconditional Access to Joy
The news hasn’t inspired a lot of joy lately. The Kyle Rittenhouse verdict that found him not guilty on all charges was very disturbing. Two people are dead and another maimed and Kyle gets to walk. Not only walk, become a vigilante celebrity likely to get paid tens of thousands of dollars to speak at conservative Republican fundraising dinners and rallies. Combine that with the Supreme Court case of Robert Nash and Brandon Koch, both of whom had sought unrestricted licenses to carry handguns and were denied, and a country overrun with guns, we will need to wear a bullet proof vests to attend a protest rallies. I can imagine future rallies at the New York Capitol will have vigilantes holding AK-15’s milling around. Or worse, West Hill drug dealers will all be carrying weapons ready for gun battles on Lexington and Judson Streets.
Add to that the very disappointing COP 26 meeting without Putin and Xi. Biden came empty handed unable to deliver any evidence of the US commitment. Our leadership at this critical moment felt hollow. Europeans are aware Trump is waiting for a second chance to wreck any chance for saving us from the devastation of climate change that is already wreaking havoc around the world and will continue to get worse.
The hopes for technical fixes using green technology have their own shadow sides. Some of these new technologies, especially innovations in computers, video screens, high efficiency motors, solar cells and batteries need precious metals and rare earths like cobalt and lithium found in just a few places on the planet. The Chinese government has cornered the market on many of them. Indigenous people’s lives are disrupted, and their ecosystem destroyed so mining companies can extract those resources and leave toxic waste behind.
And now we are seeing an uptick in COVID infections. We are still not done with this pandemic even though vaccination rates continue to go up. And we are so tired of wearing masks, taking precautions, staying six feet apart and all the other inconveniences we deal with daily. While there are positives with Zoom, it is a poor substitute for sitting in the same room and just being together.
And let’s not forget how many memorial services we’ve had this fall.
(pause and insert your own sorrows and woes here)
So having the task to write about “Opening to Joy,” can feel a little forced. We sometimes have a “Blue Christmas” service to acknowledge the difficulty of the holiday season if one is experiencing grief, loss and mourning. Such emotions can be doubly hard when friends and co-workers are making merry going to parties and exchanging good cheer.
In times like these, joy is available, but it doesn’t come from outside ourselves. Sometimes people think they can stimulate joyful feelings with alcohol, drugs, weed, sexual activity, stimulating music, movies, television shows and engrossing books. All those pleasurable resources are great … as far as they go. And sometimes they don’t go very far at all. And whether they work or not to stimulate joy, they all come to an end. They are transient and once their effects wear off we’re back where we were with the troubles we started with.
When joy isn’t reliably available from the outside world, there is another inner source. Joy can come from the interior experience of our humanity and what is beyond sense experience.
Religions and spiritual traditions have their ground and foundation in this other dimension of reality that isn’t conditional on the flux of material existence. The great delight of human form is our ability to access this other dimension through our being beyond our bodily sensations and our mental processing. It is a sense of something accessible in the present moment but not in memories of the past or anticipation of the future. It is available in each moment but not a product of anything that arises or passes away in each moment. It is a truth of what we already are, the beingness of living that is spectacular in and of itself. Even in the imperfectness of our bodies, there is so much wonder.
The crown of that beingness is our capacity to experience and live in a kind of oneness with existence tasted in the experience of love. The Buddha often praised what he called the four heavenly abodes: metta or loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and an equanimity (that better translates as a wholistic embrace of the processes of life itself without craving, hatred or identification). These four different dimensions of what we call love are powerful ways to deepen and grow our spirits through access to a kind of joy that paradoxically liberates from the suffering and misery of the world without disconnection. These abodes keep the heart open when encountering what normally shuts it down.
So many people choose to reject life, love, and human existence, their own or another’s, due to the great pain and injustice and harm all around us. If we are only outwardly focused, many of the undeluded will become bitter or cynical. There is little refuge in the past. For realists there isn’t much refuge in the future. Yet there is a liberating Presence that existed in the past, exists now and will exist in the future. Just knowing this assertion can be a great source of hope as we live into a frightening future and seek to heal and atone for a cruel past.
Unitarian Universalism gives us a free and responsible path to search for that truth and that meaning. May our congregation be a place to practice the way to liberation that brings joy and peace while in parallel advocating for justice and reconciliation for all people. May these parallel paths be the source of happiness, freedom from suffering, health and strength, peace, safety, and ease for all beings.