"I vividly remember how one of my university teachers spoke for a whole year about anxiety in human life. He discussed in great detail the thoughts of Kierkegaard, Sartre, Heidegger, and Camus and gave an impressive exposé of the anatomy of fear. One day, during the last month of the course, a few students found the courage to interrupt him and ask him to speak a little about joy before the course was over. At first he was taken aback. But then he promised to give it a try. The next class he started hesitantly to speak about joy. His words sounded less convincing and penetrating than when he spoke about anxiety and fear. Finally, after two more meetings, he told us that he had run out of ideas about joy and would continue his interrupted train of thought. This event made a deep impression on me, especially since I had such great admiration for my teacher. I kept asking myself why he was unable to teach about joy as eloquently as he had taught about anxiety.

"Somehow joy is much harder to express than sadness. It seems that we have more words for sickness than for health, more for abnormal conditions than for normal conditions. When my leg hurts, my head aches, my eyes burn, or my heart stings, I talk about it, often in elaborate ways, but when I am perfectly healthy I have little, if anything, to say about those parts of my body.

"Does this mean there is less joy in life than sadness? Perhaps. But it is also possible that joy is in fact a deeper, more intimate, more 'normal' condition than sadness and pain, and therefore harder to articulate. Words about joy often sound trite, superficial, or sentimental and seldom seem to touch us as deeply as words about anguish, fear, and pain. They seldom seem to reach the source.

"For Jesus, joy is clearly a deeper and more truthful state of life than sorrow. He promises joy as the sign of new life: 'You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy. A woman in childbirth suffers, because her time has come; but when she has given birth to the child she forgets the suffering in her joy that a human being has been born into the world. So it is with you: you are sad now, but I shall see you again, and your hearts will be full of joy, and that joy no one shall take from you' (John 16:20b-22).

"Jesus connects joy with the promise of seeing him again. In this sense, it is similar to the joy we experience when a dear friend returns after a long absence. But Jesus makes it clear that joy is more than that. It is 'his own joy,' flowing from the love he shares with his heavenly Father and leading to completion. 'Remain in my love . . . so that my own joy may be in you and your joy may be complete' (John 15:9b, and 11).

"The word 'ecstasy' helps us to understand more fully the joy that Jesus offers. The literal meaning of the word can help to guide our thinking about joy. 'Ecstasy' comes from the Greek 'ekstasis,' which in turn is derived from 'ek,' meaning out, and 'stasis,' a state of standstill. To be ecstatic literally means to be outside of a static place. Thus, those who live ecstatic lives live always moving away from rigidly fixed situations and exploring new, unmapped dimensions of reality. Here we see the essence of joy. Joy is always new. Whereas there can be old pain, old grief, and old sorrow, there can be no old joy. Old joy is not joy. Joy is always connected with movement, renewal, rebirth, change — in short, with life.

"Joy is essentially ecstatic since it moves out of the place of death, which is rigid and fixed, and into the place of life which is new and surprising. 'God is God not of the dead but of the living' (Matthew 22:32). There is no tinge of death in God. God is pure life. Therefore living in the house of God is living in a state of constant ecstasy, in which we always experience the joy of being alive.