Surprised by Joy or Ogni Parte Ad Ogni Parte Splende: Whitterings, June 2008

“Each of the ‘Nine Angelic Choirs’emitting its radiance to the ‘Nine Celestial Spheres’.”
Dante, Inferno VII

During Lent my parish read C.S. Lewis’s spiritual autobiography ‘Surprised by Joy’. In it Mr Lewis tells the story of his search for Joy from when he was a child until his Conversion to Christianity. He speaks of his first experience like this:

“The first is itself the memory of a memory. As I stood beside a flowering current bush on a summers day there suddenly arose in me without warning, and as if from a depth not of years but of centuries, the memory of that earlier morning at the Old house when my brother had brought his toy garden into the nursery. It is difficult to find words strong enough for the sensation which came over me; Milton’s ‘enormous bliss’ of Eden (giving the full, ancient meaning to ‘enormous’) comes somewhere near it. It was sensation, of course, of desire; but desire for what? Not, certainly for a biscuit-tin filled with moss, nor even (though that came into it) for my own past. Ιοϋλίαν ποθω (Oh, I desire too much) and before I knew what I desired, the desire itself was gone, the whole glimpse withdrawn, the world turned commonplace once again, or only stirred by a longing for the longing that had just ceased. It had taken only a moment of time; and in a certain sense everything else that had ever happened to me was insignificant in comparison.”
Surprised by Joy, Page 16

It is a fascinating autobiography because, although it does contain a great deal about his external life, it is more about the journey of his soul discovering its destiny and as such the interior moments that look so ordinary from the outside are monumentous on the inside. For example he accepted Christ while riding in the passenger seat of a car on the way to a neighbouring village whilst silently staring out of the window at the passing landscape.

He describes this journey of the soul as being a longing for joy something quite different from happiness or contentment.

“The Feeling is … it is that of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished from Happiness and from Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again. Apart from that, and considered only in its quality, it might well be called a particular kind of unhappiness or grief. But then it is a kind we want. I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy, is never in our power and pleasure often is.”
Surprised by Joy, Page 18

“And with that plunge back into my own past there arose at once, almost like heartbreak, the memory of Joy itself, the knowledge that I had once had what I had now lacked for years, that I was returning at last from exile and desert lands to my own country; and the distance of the Twilight of the Gods and the distance of my own past Joy, both unattainable, flowed together into a single unendurable sense of desire and loss, which suddenly became one with the loss of the whole experience… And at once I knew (with fatal knowledge) that to ‘have it again’ was the supreme and only important object of desire."
Surprised by Joy, Page 83

“All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago and further away or still ‘about to be’”.
Surprised by Joy, Page 89

On my day off last week I watched a metaphysical film called ‘The Nines’. It is a series of short films that explores the nature of a character and his relationship with his creator as well as an exploration of the artist and creation. The film is interesting enough but a little too philosophical. At least that is up until almost the last scene when the entire film comes together in one unexpected emotional climax of a profoundly religious character. The character and his relationship with his creator is resolved using the motive of the incarnation of Christ. I am afraid I can not explain any more than this.

The climax of the film takes place against with the song called ‘The Other Side of Mt Heart Attack’ by the liars going on in the background. It is a simple song that begins very slowly and reaches a crescendo while repeating the words “I won’t run far. I can always be found. If you need me I can always be found. If you want me to stay I will stay by your side. I want you to find me so I’ll stay by your side. I can always be found.” The simple incarnational words set against a cosmic background and coming so unexpectedly I found deeply moving. I bought the tune off of iTunes and as I sat in the dark listening to it a surprising thing happened. The very longing that I had been reading about in Surprised by Joy returned to me like a great gathering storm and tears ran down my face.

Although my mind can not conceive of it and I know the images I see are from my imagination there is still a deep sense of hope that one day the thing I most long for, both for myself and the whole of creation, will happen. One day, when we least expect it, in the middle of the mundane unfolding of our small lives, something will happen. We will not at first know what it is because it will be unlike anything we have ever known. Imagine how a sunrise would look to the inhabitants of a land of darkness where there has never been any light not even the pale light of the stars. At first there will be confusion and disorientation and then slowly it will begin to filter through to our sluggish minds and hearts. The thing that we have been praying, waiting and longing for our whole life is actually happening. The world is being changed! The day when all the injustice, all the pain all the unfulfilled love and desire will be undone, when all the broken pieces will be made whole again. The New Jerusalem. The angelic realms will swell outward to include all of creation: OGNI PARTE AD OGNI PARTE SPLENDE.

I know that on that day when Christ broke the bonds of death and rose upwards like the sun upon this world of sin and death that this happened. I know that He has already risen, that he already loves, that he has already redeemed. I know that what I most hope for is the foundation of the Faith and is already present regardless of whether my darkened mind and small heart can perceive it. Although most of the time I do not feel it and I do not even remember that I hope for it and I do not actively seek it I still plod forward with some deep hidden hope. It is in these small moments when through the lens of the imagination in flight we are given a faint glimpse of the Kingdom of God that has come upon us that we remember why we are Christians, and why it is that we need not ever be afraid.

I end with a prayer of the Franciscan Priest who died in the World Trade Centre on September the 11th.
“There will always be the people who want to destroy what God builds up through good people, but God will overcome. And God someday – I don’t know how he is going to do it- but he’s going to make the headlines rather than the devil. He will in the end, so don’t give up. We pray together, we hold hands together, we believe together, we love together, we’re saved together, and God reigns. Amen.”

The Reverend Father Mychal Judge OFM