Happiness and Joy are a Choice
WELCOME HOME! On this first Sunday in May, Rev. Joanne continues her series Dare to Dance Again. For the past fifty seven weeks (but who’s counting), we have been physically separated by public health concerns. During that time, our Unity Spiritual Center community has been blessed by modern technology facilitating opportunities for us to Connect in Community even during the time we were unable to Gather in Community.
Being back in service, Rev. Joanne says, reminds her of how easy it is to be happy, joyful. We do not need things to be a certain way to be happy. If we did, our community would not have experienced any joy over the past year, but clearly that is not true. Happiness, she reminds us, is not dependent upon something outside of ourselves. She quotes author and Unity minister Eric Butterworth (1916-2003):
Happiness then is a very fundamental innate experience, which very few people discover. We may experience it occasionally. It may bubble up as a result of some outward stimuli, but very few people along in life come to realize that joy is not a reactionary emotion. It’s not something that happens because of something out here that happens, but it’s a causative energy, that it comes as a result of a releasement of an inner communion, and the only way that one can ever really experience any kind of joy or happiness is when something happens within him, when he awakens to this inner flow.1
Understanding and living into this definition of happiness is fundamental to realizing that although happiness is an emotional state, and that life will deal us ups and downs, it is always within our power to choose how to react to circumstances. This idea in no way suggests that when we do experience challenges that we will not also experience sadness, or anxiety, or grief. Rather, it says that from within sadness, anxiety, or grief, we have the ability to choose to embrace that Christ Spirit within us knowing that the power of God that is Love itself, will allow us to move through our experiences knowing that God is with us. It is from that place of knowing that the choice of happiness is always available to us.
Reflecting on years when life was not dealing her difficulties, Rev. Joanne tells us that she was still able to learn and grow, unlike times when there were challenges when we have no choice but to grow. This past year, she asks us to consider, how is it possible that with all the challenges that we have been through that we have not changed? Reflecting on this question, I certainly recognize where I have changed – a greater appreciation for gathering in community, for one. Another is that I have been challenged to more closely examine my core beliefs and honestly assess how they measure up in theory versus in practice. If I am not living into my principles, are the principles not worthy of following and therefore to be modified or rejected, or are the principles on solid ground but it is my behavior that needs to change? Volumes could be written, but suffice it to say that I have reconsidered that which does not to hold up to Truth and held firm to that which does.
Jesus spoke of an abiding love that allows us to find a harmonizing power, not just within ourselves but with everyone we meet. Rev. Joanne shares from the Gospel of John:
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. John 15 9-16
In the past year, how have you expressed this love, Rev. Joanne asks, when the sacrifices we were asked to make of not being able to be with loved ones, social distancing, and other health protocols are in place so that your joy is complete no matter what is happening in the world? We have the power to break through to that joy, she says, the joy that is the gift of the Divine, that we experience in grace, that is our Divine birthright.
In this passage, Jesus is telling us that we are not servants, but friends, Rev. Joanne points out. As a servant, the relationship with the one whom they serve is transactional – payment for a service. In that is implied that the servant does what the employer says simply because they say so. But as a friend the relationship is not transactional, but transformational. Growing up, she tells us, the transactional relationship with God was how she understood it to be, and rarely did she believe that her will and God’s will were the same.
Fr. Richard Rohr, Rev. Joanne says, commented, “often the people who believe they are going to heaven are the ones who are looking at those who are having fun, saying they are are going to hell.” Do we not believe in some way that we cannot experience the joy of life, she asks, because to do so would be to put our very soul in jeopardy? But she reassures us that God wants us to experience that joy.
In Unity, Rev. Joanne says, we are not told ‘here is what you have to do – come to church every Sunday, for example.’ People come to USC on Sunday because they want to, not because of a promise of reward or fear of punishment. This is what Jesus is talking about, she tells us. We are not loving one another because we are told that is what we must do, but because we feel the spirit of God within us and we cannot help but love one another in that spirit – it’s transformational not transactional.
But what of the portion of this passage that says, ‘Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’? Interpreting this metaphysically, Rev. Joanne tells us that laying down one’s life can surely mean that in a literal sense, but also means “giving up” other things for the sake of our friends. Asking the congregation what they might choose to give up to help their friends and themselves she received many responses, including the idea that we might release judgment, ego, our time, and self-righteousness.
Sacrifices are, by definition, not easy to make. But Rev. Joanne assures us that no matter what sacrifices we are asked to make, the one we never have to make is to separate ourselves from God’s power and presence. That can only happen when we in our minds allow it to happen. No matter what happens this day, she says, praise God if its joy and praise God if its challenge, because in every single moment we get the opportunity to merge with the Divine and live from that place.
During this series, Rev. Joanne has shared an experience of a person who has demonstrated “letting their light shine.” This week, it is Amanda Gorman, the first National Youth Poet Laureate (2017-2018), and youngest inaugural poet in history when she read her poem The Hill We Climb at the 2021 presidential inauguration.
Attempting to live into our principles and ideals is an ongoing process. Daily practice of prayer, meditation, and studying of Truth Principles are all ways that we can break forth, as we dare to dance again.
Now Go and Be the Light.
In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:16
Our joy is complete because the joy of Christ resides within us. We cannot help but break forth. This joy is available to you today. This week, take time each day to connect to the Christ Spirit within. Perhaps set a timer to go off each hour, or begin each day with a brief period of meditation. As you center in on awareness of Christ within, hold the question in your mind, “What will break forth from me as I allow my light to shine?” Return to the question throughout your day as you pay attention to the inspiration that arises. How can you break forth and joyfully share your light this week?
1Butterworth, Eric, Adventures in Self-Discovery, Your Power to be Happy, Sunday Workshop, New York City (year unknown). https://www.truthunity.net/ebup/adventures-in-self-discovery-7-your-power-to-be-happy