Joy & Journeying: A Third Advent Homily
I love the implication of pairing Joy and Journeying together, thematically. I love the idea that Joy is something that we can have in the moment, with us always—something that is not dependent on a particular outcome.
And yet, I kind of hate this assertion. If Joy can be found while we Journey, then I should be experiencing Joy now. The things that I tell myself about wanting or needing some particular thing—anything—to finally truly have joy are falsehoods. Can I really have Joy while Journeying? Does experiencing Joy not depend on any particular circumstance or outcome? Flipping an assertion from Cece’s former therapist to a question, is there no particular recipe for happiness?
I am somewhat comforted by the belief that I’ll be truly Joyful when ______. That takes me off the hook for not necessarily experiencing Joy right now. This seems especially relevant to wrestle with and to truly embrace this year (though it seems that every year brings new reasons for the relevance of the Advent season).
Chieko Okazaki in an interview with Greg Prince, “There is Always a Struggle”, in Dialogue, reprinted in Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings, says, initially quoting her mother:
“‘No matter what you do, there is always a struggle. But when you pass that struggle, you have reached a new level of perfection in your life.’ I look at my work in the Church the same way. I’m going to struggle. I have struggled. Christ struggled. When He died, He was struggling the most. Yet, He is going to come in His perfection when He comes back the second time, and we can too.”
There is always struggle. There is always a Journey. We Mormons believe in eternal progression after all! Movement, progress, journeying for all of eternity. I better figure out how to find Joy in that Journeying sooner than that.
And I am convinced that God wants me to have Joy, wants all of us to have Joy, as scripture asserts (2 Nephi 2:25).
Chieko Okazaki is our Mormon Saint of Joy and Journeying, though her life and story fits perhaps less neatly into those themes than our past two Saints. As I read over some of her words and biography to prepare to write this, I was struck by some ideas that I think are relevant and hope I can weave together to speak to the tensions of Joy and Journeying that I’ve already made clear that I feel.
In her October 1994 General Conference address “Rowing Your Boat”, Chieko asserts that
“Part of our mortal responsibility is to increase in learning and wisdom. We need to use the two oars of study and faith so that our boats will not be swamped by the storms of life. We need to teach our children to use these same oars. Let’s encourage them to value education and to increase in learning and wisdom through study and faith.”
Throughout the talk, Chieko talks about our need to use study and faith as two oars to move our metaphorical boat through the river of life—that sounds an awful lot like a Journey to me. I am intrigued by the primacy given here to study and faith and find it compelling (as a person who loves to read and write and research and study and aspires to engage with what I study and what life offers me with faith).
Part of this insistence is no doubt because of Chieko’s own biography—her parents, Japanese immigrants to Hawaii with roughly a 6th-grade education, emphasized the value and importance of education for her, a rarity in traditional Japanese homes at the time, supporting and encouraging her through college and graduate school. Chieko then worked in education, as a teacher and an administrator.
I love the idea of study and faith being essential to traversing our mortal sojourn and connected to having Joy in that Journey. I believe that study and faith can be a source of Joy and love learning (I am getting a PhD after all). I know that Chieko doesn’t make the assertion that they are connected to Joy, explicitly, but I think there’s a link there worth pondering.
A couple of years later in her April 1996 General Conference address “Baskets and Bottles”, Chieko describes learning how to give a talk in Spanish, Tongan, and Korean (without knowing the language, but so that the Saints in those countries could hear her speak their language). After she talks about that process she describes the experience of giving the talks saying:
“I could feel the Spirit carrying my words to their hearts, and I could feel “the fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22) bringing back to me their love, their joy, and their faith. I could feel the Spirit making us one.”
Here, Chieko talks about Joy being transferred by the Spirit from the congregation that she was speaking to to her. That the act of service and teaching that she engaged in allowed the Spirit to bring her Joy.
What a striking, powerful image.
I love the idea of Joy being communal like this and something that can be given to another person, that we can share our Joy with others to buoy them up.
I hope that we can all find Joy in our Journeys this Advent season. It strikes me as significant that Joy comes before Jesus has been born, just like we live in the time before Christ has returned. Joy does not depend on Jesus being here, but can be in the Journey towards His return, in the anticipation of His arrival.
This does seem to complicate what Joy is, in an important way. That Joy is not the same as Happiness or Pleasure, but some sort of richer, more complex state of being that can hold anticipation and sadness and grief and uncertainty and all the other qualities of this mortal state of existence together. And yet, there is still Joy.
May we all find Joy in our Journeying, and may we have the strength to follow this beautiful, playful and provocative exhortation from Pres. Chieko Okazaki in Lighten Up:
“Be spiritually independent enough that your relationship with the Savior doesn’t depend on your circumstances or on what other people say and do. Have the spiritual independence to be a Mormon—the best Mormon you can—in your own way. Not the bishop’s way. Not the Relief Society president’s way. Your way.” Amen.