Reflections by Jerry Webber

Friday, May 20, 2011

Kissing the Moment's Joy

William Blake imaged the human tendency to grasp and hold onto joy and happiness in his poem, "Eternity."

The one who binds to self a joy
Does the winged life destroy;
But the one who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sun rise.

Blake drew a word-picture of a butterfly lightly skipping through the air. For him the butterfly represented delight, the fleeting here-now-gone-in-a-moment experience of finding deep joy in a moment and wanting to hold onto that joy.

Using the image of the butterfly, my translation of "binding to self a joy" is simply the desire to catch and hold the "joy" as it flies past. If you've ever chased a butterfly -- or watched a cat's futile tries to catch a butterfly -- you know how difficult the task is.

Blake described well the human condition: We want to bottle and save those moments that seem most right, most joy-filled. I'm convinced we want to save them so we can pull them out later, relive them, or even to make them happen again. There is something quite controlling in our response to joy. We want the secret formula so we can recreate the moment at our whim.

[Sidebar: I think that's why we often take so many pictures of significant life-moments or life-experiences. Yes, it's good to have the memories and I take the pictures, too. But the pictures capture a moment that can never be recreated. Wendell Berry's poem, "The Vacation" captures marvelously the traveler in a boat who is so busy taking pictures on his vacation that by the end, he had lots of pictures of his vacation, but he had not actually experienced his vacation. It's a chillingly good poem.

For instance, have you ever taken a trip that was grand and significant for you . . . for whatever reason? And then, some time later, you began to consider taking a trip back to the same place, or with the same people. At some level, we hope for the same significant experience we had before.]

According to Blake's poem, though, when we "bind to ourselves the joy," when we catch and hold onto the delight, we squeeze it and possibly destroy it. What's true of butterflies also may be true of delight.

In "Eternity," Blake counseled instead that we "kiss the joy" as it flies past. We kiss it, acknowledge it, bow before it, recognize that as it flies past we are on holy ground. But we do not grasp it, squeeze the life out of it, and bottle it for later.

The joy is not ours to control. It comes as gift.

Further, holding the joy occupies out hands, closes us to what might be next. Grasping what has just happened means that we may miss the next thing that happens.

Kissing the joy, on the other hand, frees us to receive the next moment, which holds its own promise, which is full of its own delight.

Granted, this is a difficult discipline that runs counter to our instincts . . . perhaps counter to our tendency to "hoard" experiences. But it moves us into so many parts of life in a healthy, open way.

We receive and let go . . . receive and let go . . . receive and let go. We can never get to the end of the pattern.

God is waiting always for our empty hands . . . because God always has more to give us.

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