Stealing Joy

Several times today, I have written or uttered the phrase, “Stealing Joy.” Knowing there are no accidents, I went to my Bible, and to the wisdom of my ancestors, to discern what the Spirit and spirits were saying.  

First, Context.

It’s been a brutal season. Approaching the Feast of the Ascension, for those following the liturgical calendar, we also mark the ascension of 100,000 American souls known (as opposed to those unknown, or unattributed) to have perished from COVID-19. And then there is the escalating war on Blackness in America. See Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Christian Cooper, and George Floyd. As my ancestors would say,

My Spirit Was Uneasy.

Mindful of mental wellness and practicing self-care, I sought solace for my soul. I am overwhelmed. I am weary and seek to manage my anger and disappointment. My practice? Staying mostly quiet, writing, and stealing joy.

Stealing (Joy) Has Become A Subversive Celebration.

Paul, writing to the Roman faithful, offered this blessing, 

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

Romans 15:13 ESV 

If this pandemic has taught us nothing, it is the importance of speaking the words and doing the things. Failing to do otherwise spits in the Face of the God Who Loves us well. Make the most of every moment, because across the world, as of my writing, 351,000 of our neighbors on the planet no longer have that opportunity.

I am weary and yet liminal. Meaning,

I trust God While being Sick to Death of Divine Timing.

I get Habakkuk’s complaint, 

How long, LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save?

Habakkuk 1:2 NIV

If it’s a waiting game with God, I lose. But I can be subversive.  As I watch what feels like the death of Democracy, Compassion, and Justice in America like a movie being sped up, a plaintive cry of “How long, Lord?” doesn’t work for me anymore. I’m drawing my circle close; I need them to survive. In my estimation, the courts, the government, and the church as we once knew it has become a perverted, Godless corrupted entity.

I No Longer Give a Damn. 

I rarely claim Christianity anymore. I’m just a poor, weary pilgrim trying to follow Jesus, and in my head, Jesus cusses regularly at our sorry state of current affairs. Fervent prayers to end this waking nightmare cannot make it stop. So, instead, I steal joy.

I Have Become a Joy Thief.

Two days ago, I caught myself smiling in the morning sunshine, singing Morning has Broken. Yesterday, I gazed out the window, amused by a happy fat robin perched on my fencepost. This morning, giggling with a friend, I decided to begin embroidering again. I’m collecting vintage handkerchieves and decorating them elegantly, with the naughtiest phrases I dare.

Just the Thought is Restorative. Subversive. Hopeful. 

Am I shameless in calling myself a thief? When my ancestors sang “Steal Away,” the late, great Jessye Norman explains,

“It is an expression, and very often the only expression that a person who had been taken from his homeland and forced to come under horrible conditions, to a country about which they knew absolutely nothing, and then forced into servitude, this was the only expression, the only thinking they could do in order to feel better.”

from Wade in the Water, Episode 3, NPR Music

Like so many of the innovations of my fore parents, stealing away was coded language, rich in meaning. Their captors taught from a doctored “Slave Bible,” redacted to instill obedience and preserve chattel slavery. Subversive and revolutionary, they co-opted and redefined the message, conveying hope to withstand the horrors of daily life. At a deeper level, it stirred them to self-manumit, whether in the mind or by leaving in search of liberty.

Stealing Joy is an Act of Self-Determination.

My circumstances cannot define me, and since the world didn’t give me my joy, the world cannot take it away. Finally, when joy is not freely offered, dammit, I’ll take it myself.

What you may call a pyrrhic victory, Paul Laurence Dunbar calls “the light come stealing in.”  

Even as America continues her assault to mute my emotions, my pain, and my fear, I shout back at her violent, unchecked, racist pervasive subculture holding itself above the law WITH the support and encouragement of the highest office in our nation.

Even if you mean well, please don’t bother telling me you’re sorry.

Don’t come to me clutching your pearls or wringing your perceived clean hands.

I don’t care, or in the last words of George Floyd,

“I CAN’T BREATHE.”

Bear your OWN pain and culpability.

Do something. Or do nothing.

Paraphrasing the wisdom of Bishop Desmond Tutu,

It Will Matter to you Only When the Elephant Begins Standing on Your Tail.

Leave me alone. I’m busy stealing joy.

 

Image Credit: Chelle Wilson

Chelle Wilson