On 8th May 1373 - exactly 640 years ago - Julian of Norwich experienced the visions recounted in her spiritual legacy Revelations of Divine Love. These revelations are indeed saturated with the love of God for us, but they could just as easily have been called Revelations of Divine Joy! Julian's God takes great joy in us, delights and rejoices in us, and so wants us to rejoice greatly in him. These words are typical of what Julian writes time and again: It is God's will that we have heartfelt joy with him in our salvation. He wants us to find great comfort and strength in it, and to be completely and happily taken up with it, by his grace. For we are his happiness, and he finds endless enjoyment in us, and we shall in him, by his grace. (Chapter 23)
Joy by God's grace... I've been reflecting on this as my Ignatian spiritual direction course is studying the Fourth Week of the Exercises - the Resurrection and Jesus' appearances. And here the retreatant is encouraged to pray constantly for the grace of joy: not a skipping around, exultantly singing emotion, but what Michael Ivens SJ reminds us is ...the joy which springs from a still-more fundamental grace, that of the faith and love that make the risen Christ, though invisible, the very core of the believer's existence. This is the sure, deep joy which can act as a leaven, permeating us even in times of trial or difficulty; a joy which is a true God-given grace.
And for some time now I've become aware that I'm feeling a quiet, subtle joy, a leaven in my life. And yes, life has its challenges and wearying setbacks, spiritual hard times and physical aches and pains, but the joys outweigh them all. There are twenty-two lovely students in our house who bring me daily joy, as do my other ministry commitments and interactions; I enjoy the love and support of my sisters and friends, prayer, reflection and opportunities for writing and creativity... and the simple, daily pleasure of watching late spring gradually unfold into early summer (yes, even with today's rain). And in there, deep in there, is the risen Christ, full of love and heartfelt joy, and offering me the simple, daily grace of joy in him.
I do not at all understand the mystery of grace - only that it meets us where we are, but does not leave us where it found us. (Anne Lamott)