Joy: Singing while Cooking, Praising while Living

I’m learning a lot lately about joy.

That’s a good thing, especially seeing that the only way to learn most things is to experience them. I’m experiencing a lot of joy lately. But not all the same kinds.

I want to – in fact, I’m about to – use food as a fitting metaphor for joy. But I can’t do so without acknowledging that I’m not the first, since I’m stealing the idea straight out of the Bible, where bread is more than once used to stand for daily sustenance and provision. And because I can, I’m adding music as well. Music and food are my signs of joy.

I eat every day. I play music (almost) every day. And I think I should feel joy every day. And so should everyone, or at least every believer. I’m getting closer. I think we misunderstand joy a lot, especially when we confuse it with happiness. Happiness is an emotion, it’s one flavor of feeling – one kind of music or meal. It doesn’t last, because no emotion does, and it shouldn’t last, because any one kind of food or feeling or sound gets old, fast. Joy isn’t the same: it runs through every other kind of feeling. It isn’t one particular flavor – it’s the idea of flavor itself.

I’ve never been much of a cook, but I’ve found some wonderful joyful moments lately in preparing a good meal. It’s a time to reflect on the day ahead or behind, stay busy with something simple and entirely different from teaching work, and let the right album play while I work and maybe sing along. And at the end – there’s food. It’s a good deal.

But not every meal is the same, because it’s a different day when something new is appropriate. New foods and thoughts and sounds. Some recent days bring this into focus, perhaps. On Saturday morning, I was coming off a week when I taught several highly successful lessons, including several based on poetry readings, that went over extremely well. I had plans for the day and loads of energy and I tried, for the first time, making muffins from scratch. Necessity forced me to improvise and substitute freely, but tasting the batter told me they’d be fine. This was Saturday morning’s joy: Joe Satriani was playing, loudly, as I unstoppably romped about the kitchen and foyer. The muffins were perfect and delicious and amazing, and I almost burst with exuberance.

Tonight is different. Last night I had two very long conversations. One was with a good friend in the States, on Skype, until well after midnight, and the second was in the dark with God for another hour after that. There was a separate bowl of ice cream for each talk. Also there was joy – mirthful laughter and quiet assurance, and a few states in between.

Today I am thankful for forgotten holidays that still get me off school. I spent the day in writing and prayer and reading, and journaling at the bakery next door over excellent tarts, and was nearly silent all day. This was Monday evening’s joy: I brought the day toward a close with a simple meal, but one with many flavors and every food group. I prepared it to the sounds of a U2 album I love very sincerely. Not music to jump around to, but I couldn’t help smiling or sighing peacefully. This too was joy.

I wonder if any of this matters to my purpose in Russia – what does anybody here care what I eat? But maybe my joy is more meaningful than that. Russia is not, as a generalization, a very joyful place. Some of the excitement, all of the English, and most of the music and food I know are products of my personality and my culture, and those are good – but this joy comes from God, and is not limited by time or place or history. I come to give evidence of that joy, to point to its source, and invite others to make it part of their lives as it is of mine. Joy is meant to be shared: when my teammate and I have had guests, preparing and serving a good meal has been more fun by far than eating alone, and the times when others have tried to understand what I hear in music have been mutually rewarding. But sharing the joy of Christ is infinitely more valuable a gift: more wonderful to receive, more blessed to give.

I feel joy in my teaching: when students are racing each other to answer and to join activities while exercising imagination and using new language, I laugh and excitedly encourage them in their efforts with cries of delight. Lessons that leave them baffled or silent are still reminders of my growth and chances to exercise patience. There is joy when students thank me very sincerely for my work and attentions, as in my last post, and another joy for anything funny they say in class. Not everything has been easy, but I have found abundant joy in seeing as many kinds of days as possible to be worthy of joy. God is using it, I hope, to change others, but He is definitely drawing me nearer Him through His absurdly generous daily gift of joy. May He be glorified in me and in the world, as I and all people become more satisfied in His joy. And may good meals and great music and God’s Presence last through all my days.