Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Joy to the World

Joy to the World

On WQXR this morning I was listening to an orchestral version of Oh Holy Night -- Cantique de Noel as it's formally known. This sacred song has been a staple in my repertoire for years and I've sung it in all seasons, feeling that it's appropriate to acknowledge that every night (and day for that matter) is a "night divine" (the last lyric of the song). This rendition began with cellos playing the melody and I had a feeling that the musical director was going for a very solemn, sacred interpretation. It lightened up a bit as the piece unfolded, but, to my ear, its overall impression was quite lugubrious. And it got me to thinking about how the sacred is so often portrayed as solemn, which often feels very dark to me. And I think it should be the opposite. I think the sacred is sublime and suffused with light, and that it's here in our cultures to ignite our hearts and souls and evoke pure joy.

Joy, joy, joy -- there was a time in my life when I remember telling people I was on a quest to find joy. Where the heck was it? I didn't see it in churches for the most part. I didn't see it at social gatherings/parties. I didn't see it in the faces of people on the street. Where is joy?

Well, I had a joy-ful experience during my healing process, that, I see in retrospect, paved the way for my meeting Hilda Charlton. I had been on my joy quest for a few years and had participated in several "consciousness raising" events. I was reading a lot of metaphysics -- my hero at the time being Ralph Waldo Emerson. And I remember lying on the living room rug one Saturday afternoon and imagining that I had light shooting out of every pore of me in every direction, reaching way up into space and deep into the Earth, (somewhere I must have read about a meditation like this); and when I came back from this imaging, I felt a joy inside me, the likes of which I had never felt before. This extraordinary state lasted for about 2 weeks. I was so open and feeling so wonderful and loving, and everything in my life was delicious, and not one thing had changed in my external circumstances. It was truly a time of grace for which I'm profoundly grateful. And I know it was a carrot that the Universe allowed me to munch for a while so that I'd "get" what the "goal" was -- that completely anchored and safe inner space of joy and peace.

It truly does surpass all understanding. It's a wow!

There was a magical voice teacher at one point in my career. He was a wonderfully insightful and playful man/musician and a world-class teacher of Carl Jung's work. He had the most eminent Jungians in town coming to sit and counsel with him. Our times together each week were astounding, I would be with him for about an hour and a half and sing for maybe 25 minutes. The rest of the time we were delving into my psyche and exploring my dream worlds. It was fabulous. These sessions seemed so out of time and space for me, that I once had the thought that if I went back to his apartment, having left my gloves or something, that he wouldn't even be there -- the apartment would look totally different and a complete stranger would answer the door.

Anyway, this is all preamble to his encouraging me one day to attend a prestigious Jungian event that was being held on the upper east side of Manhattan. I was thrilled to be in the presence of these outstanding therapists and to hear them discussing the works of the brilliant Carl Jung. And I could barely stay awake -- and I'm never bored! Talk about sacred and solemn and grindingly intellectual. Arg! Jung's work was transcendent/translucent -- he was talking about spirit most of the time. And somehow that got, and often gets, translated into solemn and heavy. And the joy is missing -- the light is missing. I feel that this has happened in many of our religious traditions also.

Whenever we sing "Let There Be Peace On Earth" at our peace meetings, I always loudly, as if to eventually turn the tide, insert the word joyful for solemn -- the lyrics of the second half of the hymn being:
Let there be peace on earth, let this be the moment now
With every step I take, let this be my solemn (joyful) vow
To take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally
Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.

I think joyful vows are much more "hearty" than solemn vows and much more liable to be honored. So I propose that we take all the furrowed brows out of our vows and other "serious" areas of our lives. There's no getting away from the chaos and darkness that seem to be prevailing in our world at this time, but our getting gloomy and heavy about it doesn't help one iota.

As Martin Luther King said: "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." I say: "Solemn cannot drive out solemn; only joy can do that." Think about it: Wouldn't we all rather be joyful than solemn? I do believe that we can "take life seriously" and live with great integrity and purpose and still be in joy. It's our birthright. To unleash it, we sincerely need to acknowledge its presence deep within us and allow it to bubble up. Surely, it'll take some practice and a commitment from us, but we can do it. And the rewards will be stunning. Let's all be Joy to each other and our World!

Whenever in Doubt, Come Home to your Heart,

Elizabeth Hepburn