Staying vulnerable in an age of cruelty.
Happiness usually involves a victory for the self. Joy tends to involve the transcendence of self. Happiness comes from accomplishments. Joy comes when your heart is in another. Joy comes after years of changing diapers, driving to practice, worrying at night, dancing in the kitchen, playing in the yard and just sitting quietly together watching TV. Joy is the present that life gives you as you give away your gifts.
The core point is that happiness is good, but joy is better. It’s smart to enjoy happiness, but it’s smarter still to put yourself in situations where you might experience joy.
People receive joy after they have over-invested in their friendships. The thing the wisest people say about friendship is this: Lovers stand face to face staring into each other’s eyes. But friends stand side by side, staring at the things they both care about. Friendship is about doing things together. So people build their friendships by organizing activities that are repeated weekly, monthly or annually: picnics, fantasy leagues, book clubs, etc.
They say that love is blind, but the affection friends have for each other is the opposite of blind. It is ferociously attentive. You are vulnerable, and your friend holds your vulnerability. He pauses, and you wait for him. You err, and she forgives.
“You will be loved,” the Italian novelist Cesare Pavese wrote, “the day when you will be able to show your weakness without the other person using it to assert his strength.”
Transparency is the fuel of friendship. We live in an age of social media. It’s very easy to create false personas and live life as a performance.
We live in a cruel time, when people attack you when they see a hint of vulnerability. So, it’s extra important to stick with emotional honesty even after people take advantage of your vulnerability to inflict pain. Vulnerability is the only means we have to build relationships, and relationships are the only means we have to experience joy.
My friend Catherine Bly Cox observed that when her first daughter was born she realized she loved her more than evolution required. I love that phrase because it speaks to what is distinctly human, our complex and infinite caring for one another.
There are some things we do because biology demands it. There are some things we do to pay the rent. But material drives don’t explain the magic of our friendships and the way our soul sings when we watch loved ones glow.
Sometimes when you’re out with your friends, you taste a kind of effervescent joy. Several years ago, the writer Zadie Smith was dancing at a club with her friends when a song from A Tribe Called Quest came on. At that point, she wrote, “A rail-thin man with enormous eyes reached across a sea of bodies for my hand. He kept asking me the same thing over and over: You feeling it? I was. My ridiculous heels were killing me, I was terrified I might die, yet I felt simultaneously overwhelmed with delight that ‘Can I Kick It?’ should happen to be playing at this precise moment in the history of the world, and was now morphing into ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’ I took the man’s hand. The top of my head flew away. We danced and danced. We gave ourselves up to joy.”
When you have moments like that you realize there is magic in the world. You can’t create the magic intentionally, but when you are living at that deep affectionate level, it sometimes just combusts within you. A blaze of joy.
Why the pursuit of money isn’t bringing you joy — and what will.
9 Attributes of a person or community living in accord with the Holy Spirit
The Fruit of the Holy Spirit is a biblical term that sums up nine attributes of a person or community living in accord with the Holy Spirit, according to chapter 5 of the Epistle to the Galatians: “But the fruit of the Spirit is:
- Love (Greek: agape, Latin: caritas)
- Joy (Greek: chara, Latin: gaudium)
- Peace (Greek: eirene, Latin: pax)
- Patience (Greek: makrothumia, Latin: longanimitas)
- Kindness (Greek: chrestotes, Latin: benignitas)
- Goodness (Greek: agathosune, Latin: bonitas)
- Faithfulness (Greek: pistis, Latin: fides)
- Gentleness (Greek: prautes, Latin: modestia)
- Self-control (Greek: egkrateia, Latin: continentia)
Love (Agape) #
- Agape (love) denotes an undefeatable benevolence and unconquerable goodwill that always seeks the highest good for others, no matter their behavior
- It is a love that gives freely without asking anything in return, and does not consider the worth of its object.
- Agape is more a love by choice than philos, which is love by chance; and it refers to the will rather than the emotion. Agape describes the unconditional love God has for the world.
- Paul describes love in 1 Corinthians 13:4–8:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
- The joy referred to here is deeper than mere happiness, is rooted in God and comes from Him. Since it comes from God, it is more serene and stable than worldly happiness, which is merely emotional and lasts only for a time.
- The word “peace” comes from the Greek word eirene, the Greek equivalent for the Hebrew word shalom, which expresses the idea of wholeness, completeness, or tranquility in the soul that is unaffected by the outward circumstances or pressures. The word eirene strongly suggests the rule of order in place of chaos.
- .. of Christianity, the tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and content with its earthly lot, of whatsoever sort that is
- Jesus is described as the Prince of Peace, who brings peace to the hearts of those who desire it.
- He says in John 14:27:
“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid”. In Matthew 5:9 he says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”
- Generally the Greek world applied this word to a man who could avenge himself but did not.
- This word is often used in the Greek Scriptures in reference to God and God’s attitude to humans.
Exodus 34:6 describes the Lord as “slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.”
- Patience, which in some translations is “longsuffering” or “endurance”, is defined in Strong’s by two Greek words, makrothumia and hupomone.
- Also included in makrothumia is the ability to endure persecution and ill-treatment.
- It describes a person who has the power to exercise revenge but instead exercises restraint.
- It describes the capacity to continue to bear up under difficult circumstances,
not with a passive complacency, but with a hopeful fortitude that actively resists weariness and defeat, (Strong’s #5281) with hupomone (Greek ὑπομονή) being further understood as that which would be “as opposed to cowardice or despondency”
- Kindness is acting for the good of people regardless of what they do, properly, “useable, i.e. well-fit for use
- Kindness is goodness in action, sweetness of disposition, gentleness in dealing with others, benevolence, kindness, affability. The word describes the ability to act for the welfare of those taxing your patience. The Holy Spirit removes abrasive qualities from the character of one under His control. (emphasis added)
- The word kindness comes from the Greek word chrestotes (khray-stot-ace), which meant to show kindness or to be friendly to others and often depicted rulers, governors, or people who were kind, mild, and benevolent to their subjects. Anyone who demonstrated this quality of chrestotes was considered to be compassionate, considerate, sympathetic, humane, kind, or gentle. The apostle Paul uses this word to depict God’s incomprehensible kindness for people who are unsaved (see Romans 11:22; Ephesians 2:7; Titus 3:4).
- One scholar has noted that when the word chrestotes is applied to interpersonal relationships, it conveys the idea of being adaptable to others. Rather than harshly require everyone else to adapt to his own needs and desires, when chrestotes is working in a believer, he seeks to become adaptable to the needs of those who are around him.
- Kindness is doing something and not expecting anything in return. Kindness is respect and helping others without waiting for someone to help one back. It implies kindness no matter what. We should live “in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left”.
- The state or quality of being good
- Moral excellence; virtue;
- Kindly feeling, kindness, generosity, joy in being good
- The best part of anything; Essence; Strength;
- General character recognized in quality or conduct.
- The root of pistis (“faith”) is peithô, that is to persuade or be persuaded, which supplies the core-meaning of faith as being “divine persuasion”, received from God, and never generated by man.
- It is defined as the following:
- objectively, trustworthy;
- subjectively, trustful:—believe(-ing, -r), faithful(-ly), sure, true.
- Gentleness, in the Greek, prautes, commonly known as meekness, is “a divinely-balanced virtue that can only operate through faith
- “a disposition that is even-tempered, tranquil, balanced in spirit, unpretentious, and that has the passions under control.
- The word is best translated ‘meekness,’ not as an indication of weakness, but of power and strength under control.
- The person who possesses this quality pardons injuries, corrects faults, and rules his own spirit well“.
- Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted”.[Gal 6:1]
- “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love”.[Eph 4:2]
- The Greek word used in Galatians 5:23 is “egkrateia”, meaning “strong, having mastery, able to control one’s thoughts and actions.“
- We read also: “…make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love”.[2 Pet 1:5-7]
Memorize All 9 with a Song:
Here’s a song that will help you memorize the fruits of the spirit:
Suffering is inevitable, they said, but how we respond to that suffering is our choice. Not even oppression or occupation can take away this freedom to choose our response.
As our dialogue progressed, we converged on eight pillars of joy.
Four were qualities of the mind:
- humor, and
Four were qualities of the heart:
- compassion, and
When we practice a generosity of spirit, we are in many ways practicing all the other pillars of joy. In generosity, there is a wider perspective [italics mine], in which we see our connection to all others. There is a humility that recognizes our place in the world and acknowledges that at another time we could be the one in need, whether that need is material, emotional, or spiritual. There is a sense of humor and an ability to laugh at ourselves so that we do not take ourselves too seriously. There is an acceptance of life, in which we do not force life to be other than what it is. There is a forgiveness of others and a release of what otherwise might have been. There is a gratitude for all that we have been given. Finally, we see others with a deep compassion and a desire to help those who are in need. And from this comes a generosity that is “wise selfish,” a generosity that recognizes helping others as helping ourselves. As the Dalai Lama put it, “In fact, taking care of others, helping others, ultimately is the way to discover your own joy and to have a happy life.”
It was the way in which, at the age of seven, in a time of great trauma in my family, I personally became attached to nature. And this was a day in August, 1954, when my mother had gone away to hospital because she’d had a mental breakdown, and my brother, who was a year older than me, was completely mortified. He was terribly, terribly upset, and yet, I felt nothing whatsoever, which took me 50 years and a certain amount of psychotherapy to discover why.
And we went to my aunt’s in a nearby suburb of the town where I grew up, which was greener than our house, which had been in the inner city, and there was a garden, two doors away. And over the wall of this garden hung a buddleia bush. And in those days, when wildlife was far more numerous in the U.K., as indeed all around the world, than it is now, on the first morning, as I ran out into the road to play, this bush was just simply covered in butterflies. And it was, very particularly, very colorful ones, the most colorful of all the British butterflies, four of them, in particular — the peacock, the red admiral, the small tortoiseshell, and the — what’s the other one? Vanessa cardui. And I was very taken by them. I was lost in contemplation of them. I thought they were remarkable. And it was a time when I should have had terrible feelings, but I had no feelings, and the feelings for the butterflies filled this hole, as it were. And from that moment on, I began to love the natural world, albeit in fairly strange circumstances.
.. But it all came crashing down in 1982, when I was 35, because my mother died at the age of 68, and I found, then, to my absolute amazement, that I could not mourn her and that, just as I felt nothing when she went away in 1954 when I was seven, now, when she went away forever, I couldn’t feel anything either. And I did not know how to react to this; it was — to have your grief taken away from you is a very, very strange situation.
And I came to understand what had happened, and the fact was that when my mother had gone away when I was seven, I had hated her for that. I had hated her because she hadn’t said farewell to us or anything like that; she’d just gone away and left me, although my psyche did not allow me to admit that, so it turned into indifference. And similarly, when she went away forever, when she died, the same feeling kicked in. I hated her because she had gone away again. I hated my mother because she was dead. And these are the sorts of tangled bits of your psyche that psychotherapy — which has lots of critics, but sometimes can help you actually sort out, and it did in my case. And so I was greatly thrilled to have recovered my feelings for my mother and to have understood what happened in my childhood, which had seemed so confused.
But I had no way of marking that. I didn’t have a way of commemorating this really big thing in my life. We like meaning-making, don’t we; that’s why we have ceremonies. We have ceremonies for christening; most of all, we have ceremonies for marriage, and we have ceremonies for funerals. We don’t let people be buried or cremated, just like that. We want to have some sort of solemnity, some sort of meaning-making. But I did not have one.
.. MS. TIPPETT: You do, of course, realize how — that the metaphor there, the allusion of that love for your mother and where we come from and how we can’t feel our grief at the loss of our insects and our birds and our blossoms, it’s — I don’t know; I hear it now more, having you tell the story, than I did when I read it, even.
MR. MCCARTHY: I hadn’t — I think, instinctively, but I didn’t make the explicit connection. I’ll make it now that you say it.
The first book of the Bible, Genesis, is not the Bible’s oldest book. Genesis’ two accounts of creation were compiled in their present form as late as 500 BC. During this period, the Jews were likely in exile in Babylon, where they were exposed to multiple creation stories.
Two excellent teacher friends of mine, Walter Wink (1935-2012) and Rob Bell (b. 1970), both describe one of the most popular stories of that time, the Babylonian Enuma Elish. It describes creation happening after a battle between two gods. The male god kills the female god, then tears her body apart and uses half of her to create the heavens and half to create the earth.
Both teachers point out that the driving engine of this story is violence, carnage, and destruction. So, the exiled Jews decided to write down their own oral tradition, surely to stay cohesive as a tribe among all the competing influences from Babylonians and others. In the Judeo-Christian story of Genesis 1, God—who is “Creator” in verse 1, “Spirit” in verse 2, and “Word” in verse 3 (foretastes of what we would eventually call Trinity)—creates from an overflowing abundance of love, joy, and creativity. Humanity’s core question about our origins is whether the engine of creation is violence and destruction or overflowing love, joy, and creativity.
Is our starting point love and abundance or is it fear and hatred? How we begin is invariably how we end and how we proceed.
For ancient people, salt was an important preservative, seasoning, and symbol of healing. What does Jesus mean by such an image?
First, he’s not saying that those who live this way are going to heaven. He is saying that they will be gift for the earth. We think of Jesus’ teaching as prescriptions for getting to heaven (even though we haven’t followed them). Instead, the Sermon on the Mount is a set of descriptions of a free life.
Jesus’ moral teaching is very often a description of the final product rather than a detailed process for getting there. When you can weep, when you can identify with the little ones, when you can make peace, when you can be persecuted and still be joyful . . . then you’re doing it right. He is saying, as it were, this is what holiness looks like. When you act this way, “The Kingdom of God is among you” (Luke 17:21). Jesus doesn’t seem to be concerned about control, enforcement, or uniformity.
.. If Christians—Jesus’ self-proclaimed followers—no longer believe the Gospel, if we no longer believe in nonviolence and powerlessness, then who’s going to convert us? We’re supposed to be the leaven of the world, yet if we no longer believe in the Gospel, what hope do we have of offering anything new to anyone?
.. “The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better” is one of the Center for Action and Contemplation’s core principles.