An Interlude for Joy

joy practicejoy trauma-informed Aug 16, 2022

Reflecting on how biblical literature is trauma-infused, and building our capacity to hold space for the variety of trauma wounding likely present in a room full of people gathering around scripture—these can be rather intense endeavors.

Today I invite you to an interlude for joy; a pause between installments in the “Trauma-informed Engagement with Scripture” series to notice and cultivate joy.

I recently looked back over my notes from a 10-session workshop on trauma healing, and it struck me as quite remarkable that one of the first invitations offered in that workshop was to intentionally practice joy. When I think back over the workshop, what usually comes to mind is the incredible depth of wounding we engaged with, individually and as a group. I see now that one of the foundations that made such in-depth engagement and expansive presence possible was the intentional practice of enjoyment.

Thomas Hübl, the teacher of the workshop, posed the question during the first session, “What about enjoyment?” He went on to invite us to think about enjoyment in our life. Am I able to enjoy a nice sunset, a cup of tea, a piece of music? Do I enjoy things alone? Together?

Researcher and storyteller, Brené Brown, describes joy as “an intense feeling of deep spiritual connection, pleasure, and appreciation.”[1] She references the research of Matthew Kuan Johnson, who “shares that while experiencing joy, we don’t lose ourselves, we become more truly ourselves,” and goes on to describe Johnson’s suggestion that “with joy, colors seem brighter, physical movements feel freer and easier, and smiling happens involuntarily.” This sounds to me like abundant life, a space of healing.

For me, the most striking elements of Thomas Hübl’s description of practicing enjoyment were his assertion that “enjoying is being with,” and his description of enjoyment as a “presencing practice.” Whether I am cultivating spiritual joy (for example, reveling in divine love or spiritual insight) or I am cultivating skill in physical enjoyment (for example, delighting in the feel of the sun kissing my cheek, the smell of fresh bread, the warm hug of a loved one, or the taste of the first tomato of the season) I am building my capacity to be present. This, in turn, expands my ability to connect with myself, with others, with God and with the physical world.

Yesterday I heard Father Gregory Boyle speak at an online conference. He told a story of a recent visit in the home of a woman dying of cancer. “I think of her as the image of God,” he said, smiling. He then described his experience sitting with her grown sons as they wept. The weeping was cathartic, and it wasn’t long before there was laughter tucked in amidst the tears. One of the boys was telling the story of his mom visiting him when he was in juvenile detention. “She just sat there and stared at me,” he said. “She couldn’t take her eyes off me.” Then apparently she leaned over and whispered, “is anyone looking?” and then proceeded to pull a warm burrito out of her bra and hand it to him. 

Boyle chuckled as he recounted the story, and then mused about how ever since he sat on the stoop crying and laughing with the woman’s sons, he’s been thinking, “that sounds a lot like God—can’t take her eyes off her kids, and pulls warm burritos out of her bra at just the right times.” 

Recognizing the inherent multiplicity of human experience—both within our own experience, and between our experiences and those of others—is crucial to trauma-informed engagement with scripture. And one way to cultivate our capacity for simultaneous awareness of sorrow and joy, grief and healing, despair and hope, is to intentionally practice enjoyment. 

By Jody Washburn


[1] Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience, page 205.

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