Starved for Joy

Newsletter No. 7

Anne Snyder
Anne Snyder is the editor-in-chief of Comment magazine, a publication of Cardus, and the creator and host of Breaking Ground. From 2016 to 2019 she directed The Philanthropy Roundtable‘s Character Initiative, a program seeking to help foundations and business leaders re-envision the nature and shape of formative institutions needed for social and moral renewal in the United States. Her path-breaking guidebook, The Fabric of Character, was published in 2019. Anne is also a 2020 Emerson Fellow, a Trinity Forum Senior Fellow, and a Fellow at the Center for Opportunity Urbanism, a Houston-based think tank that explores how cities can drive opportunity for the bulk of their citizens. She has published widely, and currently lives in Washington, D.C.

Like many of you, I have crept out of confinement this last month in cautious experimentation with small outdoor gatherings. Six feet apart, guacamole divided per person, it’s not natural, exactly, but it sure is better than Zoom.

One thing that’s knocked me off my feet is the incomparable fullness of interacting in the flesh. We will never cease being incarnate, it turns out! I didn’t appreciate how much my brain kept subliminal track of body language and smells, surrounding context and the whimsy of a friend’s frock. But here we are, and the laughter is so much heartier. There is joy in the house (or courtyard) once more.

Danté Stewart published a gorgeous celebration of joy this week, specifically, the joy that marks a people of perseverance. Formed early by the spiritual vitality of the Pentecostal church, he wonders aloud, “[perhaps] this is a part of what we’re missing—narrating joy. . . . There is something profoundly joyful, even powerful, about being all right in the midst of brutality. It is hope. It is Black joy in an anti-Black world.”

I think we all have something to learn from this, regardless of our race and cultural norms. 2020 has been a joyless year in many respects, certainly humorless. The combination of widespread grief with an earnest uprising for justice amid the shrinking of each of our worlds to survival size has made deep laughter a distant memory. But as ancient philosophers understood and today’s social scientists are discovering, joy is the capstone of a healthy community. It is richer than happiness: It is born out of moral struggle, surrender to love or to truth, surprise moments of transcendence, the quiet contentment cultivated by a long obedience in the same direction. Joy is the crown of a well-lived life. It is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. It is the mark of a Christian.

“The call to the quiet is not reservation to the chaos or confusion of life,” writes Stewart. “It is a call to radical faith in the midst of darkness. It is a call to joy.”