Cultivate Joy: Part Two (St. Bernard)

I am slowly coming to realize that joy is not necessarily an outwardly expressed, chipper, I-am-so-happy-because-everything-is-fine type of feeling or attitude. Joy is an inwardly felt, deep, intense, I-am-so-connected-with-Jesus-I-can’t-help-but-feel-any-other-way-(at this moment)-and-I-can’t-help-but-share-this type of feeling or attitude. And, it seems as if everything I read about joy indicates that it’s cyclic. Of course, the goal is to be in a permanent state of joy, but because we have other human emotions, the permanence is varied depending upon the presence of those other emotions.

For example, according to an article by Sylvie Supper titled “Spiritual Joy in the Works of St. Bernard,” St. Bernard believed that joy is one of four inner movements. The other three are sadness, love, and fear (361). Supper quotes Bernard’s own writing: “If sadness follows fear, it brings despair. If joy comes after love, it brings laxness. Let joy then some after fear, for fear dreads what is to come, whereas joy finds happiness in what is present and possesses the object of a prudent security. Joy must therefore put fear to the test. And a tested fear is nothing but prudence. Sadness must follow joy, for whoever remembers sad things will embrace joyous things with moderation. Thus sadness must balance joy, and a balanced joy is nothing but moderation” (361-2). The part of this statement that resounds with me is this: “Joy must put fear to the test. [. . .] Sadness must follow joy, for whoever remembers sad things will embrace joyous things with moderation.” I find myself telling my students that bad things happens in order to help us recognize the beauty and grace that surrounds us every day, but St. Bernard says that remembering sadness will help us “embrace joyous things with moderation.” What that says to me is that if we remember sadness, we’ll realize that joy is temporary and subject to change. We won’t let ourselves be swept away by joy, but we will realize the beauty of that joy, because we remember the sadness we’ve experienced as well. On this earth we must recognize there will be highs and lows. We should expect them, and remember each to temper the other. Now I feel like I am talking in a circle: joy, sadness, joy again, sadness again.

In order to illustrate the various types or levels of joy, St. Bernard sets up an excellent metaphor involving drinking: a taste is the joy of God we can experience during life, drink is the joy that is experienced by the souls of the saints, and inebriation is the experience of joy at the resurrection of the body (364). In this life, we can only taste; we can’t become inebriated. He quotes Psalm 35: 9, but I think both 9 and 10 help to better explain this idea of the inebriation of joy: “Then my soul shall rejoice in the Lord, exulting in his deliverance. All my bones shall say, ‘O Lord, who is like you? You deliver the weak from those too strong for them, the weak and the needy from those who despoil them.'” It’s as if the speaker’s entire body is steeped in deliverance, and why would that not bring an intoxicating, inebriating joy? “All my bones shall say” I am filled with the joy of the Lord. How many times has my whole body said, “I am inebriated with you, Lord”? Not yet. Not here. St. Bernard, much like John Wesley from the last post, says that inebriating joy will come later, that it’s not this-worldly.

Jubilus cordis is “the very music of the heart,” which is only found when our hearts experience “the deepest and most intimate joy of the soul united with God” (366). This intimacy is given to us through the books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs, and it is felt as if from an intimate couple, such as two individuals who marry or who are deeply, intimately bound. Supper says that this intimacy “is a certain experience of God that communicates to the soul [God’s] sweetness and the joy of [God’s] presence” (366). This reminds me of the song “You Are So Good to Me” by Third Day. The chorus says, “You are beautiful my sweet, sweet song,” which seems like a version of this intimacy with Jesus that’s prevalent in Song of Songs.

Finally, Supper explains that though St. Bernard focuses on the inner workings of joy, joy cannot help but radiate our from us. We should have a desire to share our inner joy with others. So, for Bernard, as for Wesley, this inner attitude becomes an outward attitude. Something we just can’t help but share. I suppose first you have feel joyful inwardly, which is my difficulty. I’m not sure if I should expect this joy that can’t help but radiate to be a knock-me-down kind of joy, or just this occasional sweet, peaceful, sort of pukey feeling I get in my soul when everything seems to be right with God. I think it’s the second one, because it seems to be tempered with fear like in the first part of this post, but I also think St. Bernard thought it was the first one, too. Joy is subtle and joy is blatantly obvious. Basically, joy boils down to, again, a relationship with God. Joy is part of the fruit of that relationship. It’s a part of the fruit I wish I could taste more frequently. I want to be inebriated with joy. Here. Now. I don’t want to have to wait for it. I’m the Veruca Salt of the spiritual fruit: I want it now.

*

Supper provides a nice little glossary of terms St. Bernard uses for joy:

  • gaudium: signifies all kinds of joy
  • laetitia and exsultatio: signify the exultation of those who have found God, opposite of bitterness; confiteor: the praise of whoever gives thanks to God
  • hilaris: one who gives joy, the radiation of the face
  • jucundus: someone who leads another to joy
  • congratulatio and congaudere: shared joy
  • alacritas: fervent and driving joy
  • delectare: delight found in resting in God
  • jubilus: the inner song of the soul united with God
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4 responses to “Cultivate Joy: Part Two (St. Bernard)

  1. I-think-if-we-typed-everything-like-this-we-would-all-be-more-joyful-:)

  2. I needed to read this tonight, especially that thing about joy being cyclical, and joy being tempered with fear. Wonderful exposition on joy for me to think on some more. Thanks!

  3. Ha ha! No doubt. It made me joyful just typing that one sentence.

  4. Thanks. I am glad you were able to receive some food for thought and hopefully a little solace from contemplating joy.

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