Message from Rev. Tony

Dear Holy Ones,

Joy is one of the foundational themes of liberal religion. It is intertwined with faith, hope, and love. Joy is often used as a single word descriptive of one of the five smooth stones of liberal religion. James Luther Adams writes, “liberalism holds that the resources (divine and human) available for the achievement of meaningful change justify an attitude of ultimate (if not immediate) optimism.” This is a cause for joy; a reason to look for and see what is possible; a reason to trust in ourselves, each other, and the universe around us.

Joy is often confused with happiness, being an expression of an extreme, ultimate sense of feeling happy. Joy and happiness are not the same thing. Happiness is an emotion, while joy is a state of heart; a condition of the soul. Joy amplifies happiness, certainly, but joy can also be present amid sadness and pain and loss. The opposite of joy isn’t sadness, but emptiness and isolation.

Joy is a fullness of heart that experiences deep connection to God/Goddess, the ground of all being, source, spirit, the universe. Joy is wonder and amazement at the miracle of existence. Joy is love and being loved. Joy is seeing and being seen. When we experience joy, it is usually accompanied by pleasure, happiness, excitement and elation, for this is when we most easily recognize it. However, it is when joy breaks through as a small light in the darkness that perhaps it teaches us its most profound lesson and its true nature.

The day of my father’s funeral I had an experience of joy. His memorial service was at an apple orchard. I read Robert Frost’s poem “After Apple Picking.” When we left the orchard for the cemetery, I gazed out over the apple trees and was unexpectedly caught up in the beauty of the orchard. It was a sunny October day and after apple picking most of the fruit, but not all, had been picked or fallen to the ground. The sun on the grass, the apple tree branches, and the horizon of rolling hills produced a feeling of wonder and awe at the natural world and its ways, and for a moment, in the company of family and friends, I felt ultimately connected to this world and to the circle of life – and death. It was a moment full of love. It was a moment of joy in the middle of a sad and difficult day.

This time of year gives us many opportunities to not only experience joy, but ponder its nature. Let us experience and reflect on joy in the carols and singing, the playfulness of children with new toys on Christmas morning, the feasting, hope, decking the halls, and the light in the darkness of Yule. Let us recognize that for some people the holidays are a difficult time of emptiness and isolation, and even though they may seem to be reserved and sad, they too may be experiencing joy in some form. May we all experience the deep, profound awareness of love, hope, and connection that is the true spirit of this season.


Rev. Tony