Education for Joy

Education for Joy takes place through beauty, fairy-tales, observation, silence, nature, poetry, music, liturgy, adoration, spiritual reading, and prayer. Education for Joy is drawn from Belloc's character Poet.

The Character
The Poet is the last to join the group and when the others see him, Grizzlebeard speaks:

"Mark you that man . . . for I think we can make him of our company, and if I am not mistaken he shall add to it what you (speaking to the Sailor) and Myself there, and I also lack. For this morning has proved us all three to be cautious folk, men of close speech and affectation, knaves knowing well our way about the world, and careful not to give away so much as our own name: skinflints paying each his own shot, and in many other ways fellows devoted to the Devil. But this man before us, if I mistake him not, is of a kind much nearer God."[1]

What does the Poet possibly have to offer? The Poet is the least practical of the group: his clothes hang upon him, he has no possessions, and no idea what to do with money. He is happy to join the group as long as they are willing to pay for him. When we first see him, he is meandering along the road, trying to write a poem, but his one pencil has become blunt—and he has nothing to sharpen it with. He is totally otherworldly: “his eyes were arched and large as though in a perpetual surprise, and they were of a warm gray colour. They did not seem to see the things before them, but other things beyond; and while the rest of his expression changed a little to greet us, his eyes did not change. Moreover, they seemed continually sad.”[2] What makes him so melancholy, so dreamy? Says the Poet: "The sight of one’s own country after many years is the one blessed thing of this world. There is nothing else blessed in this world, I think, and there is nothing else that remains. . . . whatever you read in all the writings of men, and whatever you hear in all the speech of men, and whatever you notice in the eyes of men, of expression or reminiscence or desire, you will see nothing in any man’s speech or writing or expression to match that which marks his hunger for home."[3]

The Poet is homesick, but the home he wants is divine. If the Sailor manifests receptivity to the physical world, the Poet shows a spiritual receptivity, just as strong in its wistfulness as the Sailor’s is in zest. For physical desire is more easily satisfied than spiritual desire. We can access the physical world easily, but the object of spiritual desire is God. Although He is all around us, says St. Paul, we must grope for Him.[4]

Joy: the Desire for God
The Poet hungers not for meaning, nor for contact with reality, but for a lasting homeland, not satisfied by any earthly home, this “land which is knit in with our flesh, and yet in which a man cannot find an acre nor a wall of his own.”[5] Lewis describes it as Joy: “the stab, the pang, the inconsolable longing.”[6] Joy “is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. . . . anyone who has experienced it will want it again . . . a particular kind of unhappiness or grief . . . a kind we want.”[7] Lewis defined Joy as the wake or effect left behind by an encounter with God. In it we recognize our identity as spiritual creatures made for God, divorced by the Fall, sent on a pilgrimage by Christ’s saving Passion. This desire teaches us reality, as Lewis writes: “The sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers, the longing to be acknowledged, to meet with some response, to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality, is part of our inconsolable secret. . . . Our lifelong Nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation.”[8] Through Joy we recognize an intolerable flaw in our situation, yet the very intolerability can be a pleasure bound up with wonder and hope. We find ourselves in the position of a fairy-tale character: discovering the princess and the kingdom, lovesick, aware that we will have to work seven years for her hand and that even this may not be enough, that we will require a miracle, something like a gratuitous magical godmother—even now, this position is better and more marvelous than we could possibly have hoped for.

Joy comes in many forms—in as many forms as God can manifest Himself. Everything God is—Truth, Beauty, Goodness, Mercy, Justice, Omnipotent, Eternal and Unchanging, Omniscient—can reveal itself through absence or presence. C. S. Lewis experienced God as Beauty in poetry and a tiny scene made of flowers and moss.[9] I know a man passionate for justice who came to adore the truly just man, Christ. I experience Joy as sorrow when good things end. I can say with Robert Frost, “Was it ever less than a treason to bow and accept the end of a love or of a season?”[10] But this begs the question: who would want Joy if it means being dissatisfied to some degree with our present state? Would it not be much better to be content?

That is the question characters ask in Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451. Guy Montag counters: “We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?”[11] What about ultimately bothered? To be human—even to be alive—is to desire God, be aware of His presence or absence, to be aware of spiritual realities and receptive to them. Paul Murray explains how stunted we become if we do not apprehend this aspect of the human personality: “One reason, perhaps, why so many in society today feel unfulfilled and are not ‘happy’ is because the vision of life which we are offered, or which –sad to say—we allow to be imposed on us, is one that is restricted to a pragmatic, one-dimensional view of the world. We live in thrall to what the Austrian novelist Patrick White has called ‘the exaltation of the average.’ White himself, quickened into a state of near panic by this situation, writes: ‘I wanted to discover the extraordinary behind the ordinary, the mystery and poetry which alone could make bearable the lives of [ordinary] people, and my own life.’”[12] To admit and feel the pang of God’s absence—to really dwell in hope—will give us, like the Poet, eyes that are perpetually sad. Yet while Joy opens us to the deepest kind of suffering, it also opens us to the deepest kind of happiness, the happiness of knowing our end. Tradition can tell us our end; Joy puts us face to face with Him.

Mysteriously, while Joy exacerbates the absence of God, it actually makes us closer to God. According to Jean LeClercq, "to desire heaven is to want God and to love Him with a love the monks sometimes called impatient. The greater the desire becomes, the more the soul rests in God. Possession increases in the same proportion as desire.”[13] Thus, Grizzlebeard looks down the road at this moony, dreamy, incapable individual and says truly that the Poet is “much nearer God.”[14]

Education for Joy
Formation for the Poet is not to be taken for granted. Families and schools can become solely focused on academics, sports, or their own communal life oblivious to Joy. Even Religious Education Programs can lose focus. Yet without spiritual awareness, writes Dom Chautard “What have we got? ‘An ordinary social club, run by a priest.’”[15] The tendency to lose focus led Benedict to pursue a different educational ideal: “in the life of St. Benedict we find in germ the two compounds of monastic culture: studies undertaken, and then, . . . renounced and transcended, for the sake of the kingdom of God.”[16] Education for Joy greatly resembles monastic education where “grammar’s role is to create . . . an urgent need for total beauty [and] eschatology’s role is to indicate the direction where to look for its fulfillment.”[17]

We have no control over when or how God chooses to visit the soul. However, by providing the kind of circumstances God tends to use—nature, music, art, friendship—we can awaken the spiritual sensitivity to an encounter with God. As Orual says in Lewis’ Till We Have Faces, the best way to avoid God (or “the gods”) is “to be very wide awake and sober and hard at work, to hear no music, never to look at earth or sky, and (above all) to love no one.”[18] So we want an education that is the opposite. Just as we can prepare the young for receptivity to the physical world and wonder, so we can prepare them for spiritual receptivity and Joy. Is this the business of education? It is certainly the business of formation, and, as Lewis writes, “you and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the enchantment of worldliness that has been laid upon us for nearly a hundred years. Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice.”[19]
[1] Belloc, Four Men, 24-25.
[2] Belloc, Four Men, 26-27.
[3] Belloc, Four Men, 203-204.
[4] Acts 17:27-28.
[5] Belloc, Four Men, 307.
[6] C. S. Lewis, Surprised By Joy (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, Publishers, n.d. (last copyright was 1984), 72.
[7] Lewis, Joy, 18.
[8] C. S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory,” in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, edited with an introduction by Walter Hooper (revised, New York: Collier Books, 1980), 15-16.
[9] See Lewis, Joy, Chapter 2.
[10] Robert Frost, “Reluctance,” in The Poetry of Robert Frost, ed. Edward Connery Lathem (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1969), 30.
[11] Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 (New York: Del Rey Books, 1978), 52.
[12] Paul Murray, O. P., The New Wine of Dominican Spirituality: A Drink Called Happiness with a preface by Timothy Radcliffe, O. P. (New York: Burns & Oates, 2006), 2; quoting Patrick White, “The Prodigal Son,” in Australian Letters, Vol. 1, 3, (1958), 39 and 17.
[13] Jean LeClercq, The Love of Learning and the Desire for God: A Study of Monastic Culture, translated by Catherine Misraki (New York: Fordham University, 1961; 3rd edition, reprint, 2001), 68.
[14] Belloc, Four Men, 24-25.
[15] Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard, The Soul of the Apostolate, trans. a monk of Our Lady of Gethsemani, (No location: Tan Books, n.d.), 162.
[16] LeClercq, 12.
[17] LeClercq, 260.
[18] C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces (New York: Harvest—Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1984), 81.
[19] Lewis, “Weight of Glory,” 7.


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