But in the mud and scum of things,
There alway, alway something sings.
-from “Music” by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Photo by Kieran Lewis
PLEASURE. HAPPINESS. JOY. The first beckons us constantly. The second evades us, then embraces us, then evades us again. The third exists only in theory until it strikes us, and then suddenly becomes more real than anything else we have known.
What is joy? In his poem, “Music,” Emerson describes a mysterious “something” that sings hopefully in dark and painful places. Indeed, suffering and joy seem profoundly intertwined. Is joy contingent upon pain? If so, how is joy possible?
There is a story told of St. Francis of Assisi, in which the saint and a fellow friar are walking to another monastery through snow and freezing rain. As they trudge, the friar asks St. Francis what constitutes perfect joy. St. Francis responds by saying that, if, at the end of their journey, the friars at the monastery should mock them, beat them, and cast them out again into the elements, and if they could find the grace to bear such treatment joyfully, then theirs would be perfect joy. To most of us, the notion of enduring suffering and injustice without objection is unthinkable. How could we even begin to bear them with joy? And yet, we can (and frequently do) overcome ourselves in small ways to accept, and even rejoice in, our daily encounters with imperfection. Perhaps the perfect joy of Francis is possible. Perhaps to be fully human is to rejoice, not simply in spite of our frailty, but because of it.
This winter, our artists have taken up the question of joy. We hope that their work will provoke insights, answers, and ever-deeper questions regarding this elusive element of our human experience.
Elise Matich is an artist, educator, wife, mother, and editor. She finds inspiration in the mysterious simplicity of ordinary things. She makes time for creativity by neglecting to fold unspeakable quantities of laundry.