In his poem, A Brief for the Defense, Jack Gilbert writes, “We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure, but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world.”
In our Wednesday night adult study this fall we will aim to do just this: risk delight. We will stubbornly accept our gladness against a world that seems to demand something less. Through the course of our days we’re bombarded with voices that would have us either submit to a steady drip of entertainment or distraction, numbing our senses and shielding us from feeling the world deeply, or wallow in self-righteous denial that would have us stay in a perpetual state of anxious worry.
Enough. As Gilbert says, we need delight to live and certainly to live abundantly. But this does not come naturally. Our sense of joy and delight is like a muscle that must be exercised in order to be strengthened. As Mary Oliver puts it, “only if there are angels in your head will you, possibly, see one.”
In a sense, through our time together on Wednesday nights, we will aim to fill our heads with angels.
We’ll do this in a number of ways: prayer practices, reading and reflecting upon scripture, poetry, and prose, group discussion and sharing, and writing. I’m most excited about this last one, which is inspired by a book I’m reading by Ross Gay called The Book of Delights.
Gay is a poet who took up a practice starting on his birthday to write one small essayette each day (or most days) reflecting on some delight in his life. Perhaps it was something that caught his eye—a vibrant red flower pushing up through a crack in the concrete, or a pleasant interaction with a stranger—the way a cashier greeted him with unexpected politeness after having to engage with a rude customer. Whatever or whoever called to mind this sense of delight, wonder, and gratitude.
He set a few rules for himself. He would try to write everyday but would give himself permission to skip here and there as well—the practice of occasionally “blowing it off” itself becoming an “ancillary” delight. The essayettes would be brief—just a few hundred words—and he would write them by hand in notebooks.
At the end of a year he had a catalogue of joys—a written testimony to the thread of delight that connected the different relationships, commitments, obligations, and moments of his life. Themes emerged, and people, too. His parents and childhood, his garden. And he realized, as we have noted, that by taking on the practice of calling these delights to mind and paper, his eyes were opened to more and more of them, until he realized he was quite literally awash in them. What a radical, counter-cultural assertion.
I believe this is true for all of us, and in our time together this fall we will take the risk of finding out.