By Aurelia Dávila Pratt
In the wake of Uvalde, I am filled with a grief so deep it touches on other aching parts of my heart. Like the part that dreads sending my own kid to school each day, come this fall. But also the part that has yet to fully process what it means to live in a world with Covid or to comprehend what we’ve all been through these last two years because of it.
The grief of all that has been lost to the families of Uvalde and Buffalo and Laguna Woods and Tulsa (and, and, and!) is too much. The grief that nothing seems to be happening to change future circumstances is more than a person can bear. It brings up a hopelessness that threatens to overtake us. Yet, we are familiar with this hopelessness because we have known it many times in recent years.
I want to suggest (with great urgency!) that one of our responses to all of this might be the cultivation of joy.
We’ve heard it said, “You’ve got to put on your own oxygen mask first before you can put on the person’s next to you.” This metaphor can help us prioritize a care for self that is necessary if we are to make sustainable contributions to the collective.
Cultivating our own joy is not meant to be selfish work. We are not ignoring the needs of the world around us. Instead, we are beginning to understand that we can actively care without carrying every single load, every single time. We put on our own oxygen mask first so that our much needed participation in the work of heaven on earth is not in vain.
This is also not meant to be easy work. In fact, this both/and posture is the road less traveled. It is the harder way. Peeling back the layers of shame and guilt we experience when we choose to prioritize our own care is no easy feat. After all, many of us have been indoctrinated to deny ourselves to the point of physical, spiritual, and emotional neglect.
But if we deny ourselves, how will we care for anything or anyone outside ourselves? This is not the well we were meant to draw from! As bearers of God’s own image, as Divine temples, we must learn to include the work of nurturing our own bodies, spirits, and healing.
So we put on our own oxygen mask first—not as an act of disregard for all that is playing out in these times, but as an act of radical love and care for all of creation. When we do it, we witness a metaphorical breath of fresh air that flows up and out of us, expanding our capacity for hope, peacemaking, and compassion. Energizing us. Fueling our ability to face the realities of the world. To care without carrying to our own detriment.
We put on our own oxygen mask first, and what’s more, what if joy is the oxygen mask? What if our joy is a key ingredient to our collective liberation? Our desire to love, our urge to serve, our inclination to give and propensity to make significant change is not sustainable without first tending to our own inner landscape.
May this reminder compel us to make the necessary adjustments right here, right now via our spiritual practices, of which joy should be a part.
Like any other spiritual practice, with joy, we are signing up for a lifetime of never quite arriving. We are committing to the necessary work of holding joy in tension with grief, lament, rage, etc. We are consistently giving ourselves grace and compassion.
We are cultivating the love and care we perceive is needed out there, within ourselves. We are reflecting our hopes for the world within our own bodies. We are practicing joy again and again, and in doing so, we are increasing our capacity to recognize and experience it daily. Again, none of this is in place of our outer work, but rather, in addition to it.
So—attention to anyone who will listen!
If you spot an opportunity for joy in these times, take it. Consider joy, in all its shapes and sizes, a Spirit-nudge. A challenge to be accepted. Unapologetically and fervently grab hold of it. Because I am convinced that joy is our ticket. Joy is the life preserver we desperately need. Joy can be our salvation, pulling us out of our throes of fear, panic, and hopelessness.
As we continue in our liberation work, in which we use our bodies and voices to actively usher in heaven on earth, may we remember: joy is not just a bonus. It’s not just a whim. Joy is our oxygen mask, it is urgent to our thriving, and we cannot do without it in these times.
Aurelia Dávila Pratt is the lead pastor of Peace of Christ Church in Round Rock, Texas, and cohost of the Nuance Tea Podcast where she is redefining what it means to be a clergywoman of color. Her book, A Brown Girl’s Epiphany, is available for pre-order now! Learn more at revaureliajoy.com.