In defense of joy

We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world.

A brief for the defense, Jack Gilbert (extract)


In his post-resurrection appearance to Mary Magdalene Jesus asks, "Why are you crying?" (John 20:15)

Here the reclusive American poet Jack Gilbert defends joy. Beginning with 'Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere' and moving into 'we must admit there will be music despite everything' he sees the ruthless furnace of deprivation, abuse and injustice yet also insists on accepting generosity, beauty and dignity. I am rocked by the need for such defense and woken up by the timely recollection at Easter that joy is core to the christian faith. A man of sorrows. Yes, indeed. But I suspect he was also the heartiest of men, the best of company.

There is a script, suggests Gilbert, that denies happiness, that does not allow gladness. There is a right compassion and action that springs from taking the matters of life and death seriously. Yet there is also that earnestness that is reminiscent of the atmosphere in the story of Jesus accepting Mary's lavish offering of perfume ahead of his suffering and amidst attendant poverty. One fellow church goer honestly remarked, 'I need to come to church to be reminded that there is something to celebrate, something to be joyful about'!

Jesus's question to Mary in the garden places us in this very space between joy and sorrow, here challenging a shift that periodically needs to take place - to accept gladness. Why are you weeping?

Image: Mary recognises Jesus, St. Dunstan's Chapel in Ely Cathedral