Edward Hays is a connoisseur of joy who has given us many examples of the central place of this virtue in his earlier books. We have been tutored by spiritual teachers in Christianity, Buddhism, Zen, Taoism, Judaism, and Native American traditions about how to practice joy in our daily lives. Hays alludes to some of these in this manual for exuberant living. He reminds us that "untamed joy is euphoric; it is ecstatic, taking us out of ourselves and into God."
Hays' favorite exemplar of joy is Francis of Assisi whom he calls the patron saint of joie de vivre. It was an image of this merry soul that spurred him to write this jubilant paperback. Although no incident in the New Testament specifically describes Jesus laughing, he did promise his disciples that "no one will take your joy away from you." And in a bittersweet world filled with tyrants, power-hungry individuals, sadists and war-mongers, it is that sturdy and buoyant promise that helps us make it through dark days when sadness, sorrow, and despair stifle our hope.
We are also sustained by the trinity identified by St. Paul joy, gratitude, and prayer which help undergird our efforts to build a better world. Hays reminds us that a lifetime of rejoicing stems from the inner acceptance of our divine birthright as sons and daughters of God. Whereas other spiritual writers would just leave it at that, this Catholic gives us concrete and imaginative practices that are signs of our inward joy:
• "Smiling is also a sure remedy for xenophobia the fear of strangers especially those of different colored skin than yours, or who speak a foreign language. Smiling at any stranger immediately indicates that you don't consider them as dangerous or an enemy, but an unknown friend. The unrecognized friend is your Beloved who promised that whenever you reach out to assist those in need, he would be the one you helped, even if only with a smile."
• "I encourage you to create your own brief watch prayer as you strap it to your wrist, something as brief as: 'Thank you for the hours of this day a gift I've been given to give away.' Commit your prayer to memory so that it flows freely as you pray at the beginning of the day or whenever you are forced to wait. In this time of frequently being frustrated by having to wait, let your silent wristwatch be like a chapel bell calling you to prayer time."
• "Consider another irritation: that of the noisy behavior of others such as young teenagers racing their motorbikes up and down your street or celebrating together in front of your house late at night. These and similar actions are logical robbers of your peace and joy that would normally result in anger. Experiment with reverse evolution. Desire to be as young as those noisy teenagers are by shrinking the age difference between you and them in order to share in their uninhibited adolescent joy."
• "Make a pilgrimage to your neighborhood pharmacy or drug store and prayerfully stroll the aisles, rejoicing in gratitude for all the many medicines you don't need! I assure you that you will return home holier and happier."
We often talk about the spiritual practice of joy in the same breath with its companions. We say joy and sorrow, happiness and sadness, smiles and tears, the ecstasy and the agony. The experience of one intensifies our awareness of the other. On these pages Hays acknowledges the pain and suffering we all experience and refuses to give credence to a Pollyanna view. Yet he eschews a humor-challenged approach to life and writes about the joy-tinged dimensions of laughter, playfulness, singing, dancing, and even silliness.