Joie de Vie
It is obvious that the title of this inspirational message is not in English. For many of us who do not know any other language, this can be very frustrating. Suddenly we can feel like the outsider. It might even bring back memories of being a little kid and being left out of a conversation. Exclusion is typically not a fun experience.
However, if you know French, you immediately knew the phrase used in the title was a pretty familiar phrase. In fact, in educated, academic circles, it often is used in an English text and left untranslated. Again if I am not educated, i.e., if I do not know French in this case, I still feel left out. I might have a doctoral degree in physics and still not know what the phrase means.
The phrase, joie de vie, means “joy of life.” Now that we all know what it means, we can relax since it must be good news if it is about joy! Indeed, it is good news. But then, I might ponder, what is the good news? Even in English, that is a difficult question. To different people there can be a big range of things that might be good news.
We can all agree there are certain basic things that are good news. Surely, health is one such basic thing. To have one’s health is good news. For those of us farther along in the aging process, having one’s health is really good news. By the time most of us reach middle age, we realize having good health is not a given. Good health is not some cosmic right that is granted to every living human being. When we have that first sense of fragility, we know that we do not have that cosmic human right.
Certainly there are other basic things that are good news. Sufficient food and housing are good news. Probably most of us have never had too much of a scare on these two issues. But I also realize not everyone in America has it so good. There are too many homeless in our communities to say housing is always a good news issue. And there are too many people struggling with enough food to eat to dismiss hunger as nothing more than a foreign issue.
If I am sick, homeless or hungry, it is difficult to experience joie de vie. If I am sick, homeless or hungry, I am not happy. In fact, I might be ticked or I might be depressed; but I am not happy. And I am not experiencing joy of life. Having said that, I was hit with: what is “the big question.”
The big question asks whether I have to be well, full and housed in order to be happy or experience joy? That is a big question! And it is a tricky one. It is tricky, because if the answer is “yes,” then probably all of us at some point are doomed---doomed to be unhappy and have no joy.
In my own case, I am probably a sitting duck for the sickness piece. In all likelihood, I have sufficient means to avoid being homeless and of going hungry. So my big question is whether I am doomed the moment I am no longer well?
One easy way to begin answering this is to differentiate happiness and joy. I do think it is possible not to be happy, but still have a chance at joy. Without writing a dissertation, let me suggest that happiness is always temporary and always fleeting. Of course, some of us who are lucky seem to have more happiness for longer periods of time. But happiness is not guaranteed and we should not count on it as another one of those cosmic human rights.
Joy is something else. I do think one can have a sense of joy even when things are not going well. Joy is more of an attitude. Joy is rooted deeper in our souls than happiness ever could be. Let me take it to the spiritual dimension where it is rooted for me (assuming it has some roots and I have a chance at some extended joy). On this note I will confess that Jesus is my model.
Whatever else is true about Jesus’ life, I am confident he experienced the joie de vie---the joy of life. This is evident in so many ways. For example, his basic message was that the Kingdom of God was coming and, in some real way, had come. Of course, that is another dissertation. Suffice it to say, when Jesus talked about the Kingdom, he always used two words to describe its presence: peace and joy. When the Kingdom comes to be present, there will be peace and joy.
That has to be true, even if suffering also comes into play. And it surely did come into play in the life of Jesus. Oddly enough, with this logic I think it has to be admitted that the Romans crucified Jesus and he had a sense of joy throughout the process. Was he happy? Certainly not! But I do think he had that deep sense of joy---joie de vie---that came with the surety that God’s Kingdom had come and will come.
This gives me hope. There is good news---such good news---that brings in its wake the Kingdom message that I can experience deep joy and peace that can see me through anything---sickness, homelessness, hunger and even death---and still have joy of life!