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I’ve got the Joy down in my heart

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When I was a little girl, my sister and I sang the children’s Bible school song lyrics: “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart.” We sang it with complete abandon, at full volume, with our heads thrown back. We meant it and felt it. As the verses progress, the words get faster and faster.

We’d sing as fast as we possibly could: “I’ve got the wonderful love of my blessed Redeemer / Way down in the depths of my heart …”

And we would laugh with clear, simple joy. Laughter was the childish response we had to that extreme goodness of the Truth in the song, the closeness of each other, the delight of the day. That experience of joy, as irreverent as it was, was a real introduction to a deeper sort of joy— one linked to our relationship with God.

Joy is one of those invisible realities we understand from our experience with it. It is impossible to describe with mere words or images or sounds. Joy is experienced in the wide incarnational world: in color, scents of paint and sun-warmed bronze, in reclaimed clay and in new ideas.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI teaches that Christian joy is something we receive “from the encounter with the living Person of Jesus.” An encounter with Jesus is an encounter with beauty. And the Catholic artist’s challenge is to address that beauty in sculpture’s permanence or poetry and music’s ephemeral sounds. Joy, hope, love: these unseen realities are the seed and fruit of the artist’s work.

I am keenly aware of my small little prayer, amid the river of saints and encircled by the whole music of words, bells and light that are amplified into something beautiful at Mass. That is joy.

There is joy in knowing we are made in the image of God, imago Dei. We are made from the same dust that God used to make the stars.

When some years ago, I told my dear friend, Joan, that I was again facing chemo, she warmly responded she was there for me “with tea and sympathy or wine and gladness.” Wine and gladness! My daughter painted the phrase on our kitchen wall in gold with flourishes, to remind us that joy in friendship and deeper joy in the presence of God are ours to claim. Joy is created in love.

We can cultivate joy as virtue, and develop our capacity for joy with reminders, prompts and practice. Especially as artists, we can be receptive to the little gifts of joy. We can take joy in the quiet of a sunrise and in a little child skipping in her cowgirl boots.

But, most importantly, we can take joy in the knowledge that God the Creator of the Universe loves us with a joy that inevitably spills into our lives and our work.

Nancy-Carolyn Smith is a sculptor, art teacher, co-founder of The Angelico Project and Director of the Angelico Catholic Arts Guild, a lay Catholic initiative whose mission is to nurture artists’ faith and work. A Third Order Franciscan, she loves her Dominican parish, St. Gertrude. She and her husband, Jack, have four children and twelve sparkling grandchildren.

This article appeared in the November 2022 edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here

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