Joan Chittister: ‘A Lust for Joy’


“Sitting out in the middle of the channel in a little nineteen-foot fishing boat with ocean freighters and large sailboats passing us on both sides, I remember the wild and crazy joy of it: no desk, no phone, no speeches, no airplanes. Just four of us, a hot sun, an empty fish bucket, a parade of boats, and the rocking of the waves. I cast with all my might, caught the top of the channel light, and, laughing my heart out, cut free just in time to avoid wrapping the next sail in fishing line. Life, bare and simple, is a wonderful thing. How do we learn that? And what does it mean for the spiritual life itself?

We learn it by seeing it, I think. When I was a young sister, in the days before the church had negotiated a kind of truce with the world and the monastery reflected the emotional sterility that the standoff implied, Sister Marie Claire, steadfastly opposed to the suppression of joy in the name of holiness, went to her music room every Sunday afternoon to listen to records of symphonies, scores of operas, collections of piano performances. We didn’t go to concerts in those days, and only music teachers were allowed to have record players. She would sit in her rocking chair all afternoon and simply listen. I remember being very moved by the model of such bold and wanton delight in the face of such institutionalized negation of it. The lesson served me well. There are times in life when the only proper response to the dreary and the difficult is to ignore them. The person of hope, the person who knows that God is in the daily, knows joy.

Embodied love, with all the joy and pleasure and beauty it brings, has been made the great enemy of the spiritual life, as if learning to be dour were a dimension of sanctity. We were trained to beware the beautiful and the pleasurable, as if beauty and pleasure distracted us from the God who made the world beautiful and gave us all a capacity for pleasure. “There is no such thing as a sad saint,” the poster says. Having come out of a Jansenist spirituality, it took me a little while to get beyond the sourness of sin to the delight of fishing boats and party times and wedding feasts at Cana. But I finally came to understand that there is no such thing as “loving God alone.” If we love God, we love everything God made because all of them are reflections of the Love that made them.

To lust for joy is to lust for the God of life. To make joy where at first it seems there is none is to become co-creator with the God of life. When we make joy, we make a holier, happier life.”–Joan Chittister, OSB

Excerpted from Called To Question by Joan Chittister

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