Workman Publishing, 256 pages | Published October 25, 2022
What does it mean to live in the “already and not yet”? Or to be a “resurrection people”? When you spend enough time in church, you recognize these words as markers that point to something that goes beyond language: God’s love. As such, they represent how words are a tool for connection and meaning-making that have limits. They also represent how language can fade when it is used and reused without innovation. I ask again: What does it mean to live in the “already and not yet”? Or to be a “resurrection people”?
One of the reasons I love Ross Gay’s writing is because he adds flesh to the truths I treasure in my faith. Only here’s the thing: he doesn’t talk about God; he does not claim any faith. And yet, his major themes of noticing, grieving, delighting, and community point to the truth of who God creates us and calls us to be in ways that allow me to see the Holy Spirit as active in ordinary, miraculous ways. God’s presence in the world feels palpable when I read Gay.
Take his latest book Inciting Joy. Gay builds an entire collection of essays on the framework that joy is alive. But it looks different than we expect. Society tells us that joy is a life without pain or that joy is something we can buy. Perhaps, he ponders, joy and sorrow are not so different: “[W]hat if joy is not only entangled with pain, or suffering, or sorrow, but is also what emerges from how we care for each other through those things? What if joy, instead of refuge or relief from heartbreak, is what effloresces from us as we help each other carry our heartbreaks?”
In his essays, Gay explores the death of his father, basketball, racism, gardening, mass farming, unexpected musical covers and toxic masculinity. And in all of it, there is a complex joy — at vulnerability, at curiosity, at the interconnectedness of it all.
Isn’t this a vision of what the church could be? A place where we are honest. And where our honesty leads to solidarity and gratitude. The church could be a place where we reject self-sufficiency and learn that we need each other — not only the people in the pew next to us but the people out in the world, the people who see things differently than we do. To me, this is the fruit of Christ’s resurrection. This is the “already and not yet.”
I recently joined a crowded room to hear Gay on his Inciting Joy book tour.
When given the opportunity, the audience mostly asked Gay about his life philosophy: How did he learn to seek joy? It felt that we were a group of disciples. Was he a guru or a writer? Maybe both? There is a desperate hunger in the world for a community that welcomes sorrow, that notices joy, and that rebuffs society’s lie of self-sufficiency.
At the reading, he explained that “inciting” functions as both a verb and adjective. In other words, he hoped the book would encourage readers to ask, “What incites joy?” as well as “What does joy incite?”
I wonder what it would look like if the church invested in pondering these questions with an expansive understanding of joy.
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