Friday, August 12, 2022

A splash of joy

“Wah-hoo,” cries Math Man as he rides yet another wave to shore. He’s grinning from ear to ear, shouting with joy, along with the dozen or so kids riding their boogie boards at the Jersey shore. There are adults out there, too. Clearly having a good time, but none of them are screaming with delight. I would say it’s undignified for the Kenan Professor of Mathematics and chair of the department, but I would argue it’s precisely because of his dignity that he should be should be whooping on the beach. Dignity derives from worthiness. Math Man is certainly worthy as academia measures it, but his human dignity makes him worthy of joy. 

Adults, me included, can be chary of joy. Worried that it makes us seem undignified. So we tuck it in our pockets rather than wrap it round ourselves, we walk it back rather than dance with it. We essay a wan smile while inwardly jumping for joy. But as novelist Léon Bloy wrote in a letter to his fiancée, joy is the surest sign of the presence of God. (No, that was not Teilhard de Chardin, nor was he writing to Jacques Maritain.) If our dignity stems from being created in the image and likeness of God — we ought to be clothed in joy, it ought to trail behind us like a sparkling train.  We ought to shout and leap and grin madly in the presence of our God. Who is before us, behind us, beneath us, within us. And in every wave that carries us to shore. For we are all worthy of joy.

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