Now back to plan old joy. If you were expecting me to explain the difference between joy and happiness I will not. I only want to make one point about joy. Commanding a person to be joyful is like commanding a pear tree to bear pears. It won’t happen. However, you can water, prune, and fertilize the tree. Only then will it naturally grow pears as it is suppose to. In this way joy is a choice, yet not a choice. You can shape you attitude towards life and what God has done in it. Then, if the conditions are right, joy should spring up as a natural out flowing of what is inside you. Forcing yourself to be joyful in every situation is not the way to produce joy, only frustration. It may take time and discipline before you will be able to bear joy in winter.
In modern America we have few words to describe pleasure. Happiness is common along with joy, which for many is little more than a kind of happiness. A limited vocabulary limits are ability to think and talk about subjects. In the novel 1984 the totalitarian government slowly removes words from the official language. The theory is that by controlling the words people can use they will shape the way people think. Therefore I want to add a few new words to our vocabulary to help fight against the darkness and despair around us.
Church people especially need a little joy in their lives. We are often depicted as being dour and killjoys and I think those characterizations are partly true. Our attempts at being happy people often are weak. I have heard a few sermons preached about joy being a command, meaning we have a choice to be joyful or not. The result is often produces either faked joy or emotionless “joy”. I don’t think those two are what Paul had in mind when he was talking about joy in his letter to the Philippians. I will come to that later, but first the new words I promised.
Mirth: n. gladness or gaiety as shown by or accompanied with laughter
Mirth is a purposeful joy or gladness. It’s something that boils inside and often comes out in laughter or smiling. Mirth is also an atmosphere that can form around people if they let it happen. However, it is not the same as silliness. It is more serious than that. Silliness is like water spraying madly out of a multicolored hose. Mirth is water spurting out of a beautiful fountain.
Whimsy: n. 1.the quality or state of being whimsical or fanciful 2. a fanciful or fantastic device, object, or creation especially in writing or art.
Whimsy, as the definition implies, is much more fanciful or fantastic. It’s capricious, but not in a negative way. Whimsy is darting, quick, and creative jumping from one joy to the next. Sometimes it is ironic and intelligent. Critics look down on whimsy as much to fanciful. They complain it needs to take things more seriously and logically. What they miss is that whimsy has it own kind of seriousness, taking pleasure in is work and using creativity to leap over obstacles and solve problems.
Jovial: adj. 1. capitalized: of or relating to Jove 2. : markedly good-humored especially as evidenced by jollity and conviviality.
Jovial is a kind of joy that is quite rare these days. Jovial refers to the Roman god Jove or Jupiter. To understand this we need a quick medieval astronomy lesson. Jove was the head of the Roman Pantheon and therefore Jupiter was the kingly planet. People born under the influence of Jupiter were said to have Jovial personalities. Since we don’t have many kings these days and most often they are portrayed negatively, it makes it hard for us to understand this kind of joy.
The best way to understand it is to picture a king at the head of a banquet. In front of him is a table piled high with sweet meats, breads, puddings, wine, and ale. Around the table sit his followers feasting along with him. The king has a loud voice that sends out peals of laughter. Incidentally, Jupiter was the god responsible for sending down bolts of lightening accompanied by thunder. Jovial joy is loud and generous. It’s reminiscent of a good king giving lively banquets for his followers. Nothing of this down plays that fact that he is a king and if he so chooses could have your head cut off without argument. He still deserves absolute respect. This kind of tension is confusing to those off who have never lived with a king.
As a professor at Magdalen College in classes on Medieval Literature, C.S. Lewis would often ask his students to guess what planet he was born under. His booming voice and red face gave them the answer. In a better picture of a jovial kind of joy may be Aslan in the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. He is majestic, powerful, lordly, loving, playful, and merry all in one.