All Saints & All Souls

A correspondent in Alberta — Baggins the Pharmacist — writes on the subject of Joy. It has perhaps been overlooked, in the media and elsewhere.

He does not try to analyze Joy, in our modern manner, of formula-seeking. The subject is too simple for that. Everyone knows what Joy is, including those who deny knowing. I have written myself about this flip side of arrogance and wilful ignorance: for we not only claim to know what we don’t know, we also claim not to know what we do know, in this world around us. Examine the inside of your own head, and you may distinguish true Joy from its surrogates and proxies; quite easily, in fact.

Baggins is concerned with Joy in the choice of attachments. By attachments he might include everything from friends to consumer durables; to ideas and opinions and beliefs and commitments. His criterion for judgement is, “Does it spark Joy?”

I am reminded of my discovery of T. E. Hulme, in the library of the Victoria and Albert Museum, a long time ago. Among his works was a “Critique of Satisfaction.” Hulme tries very hard to be vulgar; in some ways he succeeds; while breaking through various intellectual, verily philosophical, obstacles or alternatives to Joy. Each he confronts with the question, “In what way is this satisfying?” I (then an atheist) could see that his argument was leading straight to God. And that it was irresistible.

In the end we can’t do with half-measures. They are not, anyway, where we began, which was in an absolute state of Being. Birth itself is no half-way: we already Were. And the capacity for Joy was within us. We grind away at an indestructible whole; it is still there for all our grinding.

Baggins looks back in his mental closet, to his stacks of old shoe boxes, containing “the little trash and trinkets of past lives and past modes of thought, past judgements, and past sins.” Is it time to dispose of them yet? Need he continue to carry them along? Do they spark Joy?

For instance, the accumulated daily wads of his “spin and opinions”?

“So months ago, I unhooked from Satellite TV, and all news programmes because they were all a near occasion of sin. I simply no longer accept any form of “streaming” infotainment or fake news — which is almost everything that passes for ‘news’ these days. Yet I am no Luddite by any stretch.” … He now finds fairly joyful things, even on the Internet.

The young Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, Albanian as one might guess, felt one day that she was drawn to God, perhaps called to be a Catholic nun. Intelligent and sceptical, she went to an intelligent nun for advice, on what to make of her “feelings,” on how “a calling” might be discerned. She was asked a simple question, which might be translated, “Does it spark Joy?” (Off to Ireland, first. Later she became Mother Teresa of Calcutta.)

We live, most of us, the life of Hallowe’en, “secularized” or desanctified from ancient religious practice, with results that may be seen. But now All Saints and All Souls have arrived. There is much to put behind us — so much “Hallowe’en” for the trash — but looking forward, how shall we be guided? What of the criterion of Joy?