If there’s one overarching sign of our cultural spiritual bankruptcy, it has to be the complete lack of joy.

Joy, in fact, is now suspect. It indicates that you have in your head in the sand, that’s you’re not sufficiently aware; that you don’t see the world as a place of darkness, evil, and the good guys (you and your political allies) vs the bad guys (everyone else).

In a recent NYT op-ed, for example, Margaret Renkl describes reading Annie Dillard’s “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek” decades after its publication. She’d adored it the first time, but–

“The second time around, “Tinker Creek” raised some of the same issues for me. Reading it as a 62-year-old, it turns out, is entirely different from reading it as a language-besotted college student just learning that writing like Annie Dillard’s could exist in living time, as indelible as any line by Shakespeare or Keats or Dickinson.”

“The features of the book that make me cast a sideways glance today — the specific circumstances of privilege, or just the good luck, that make it possible for a young woman to feel confident wandering alone in even a suburb-skirting woodland, for instance — ought to have made me cast a sideways glance in 1980, too, though they did not. I was also a young woman who knew so little of the human world that I still felt safe walking alone in the wild one.”

Give me a pre-paid break. So Annie Dillard was supposed to preface her 1980 book with an apology for being white, a renunciation of her “privilege,” and a caveat that walking in a suburb-skirting woodland was a perilous undertaking for any young woman who didn’t happen to be young and blond? And in 1980 we, the readers, were suppposed to have noticed all that, begrudged her safety, and besmirched the book?

What world is this where we spend our time tearing down everything that is good and smearing every work of art with this bizarrely paranoid, revisionist overlay?

When did it become perilous (or when did we begin to perceive it as perilous) to walk in a suburb-skirting woodland, or an urban alley, or a trail through the desert anyway?

When did we go from willingly assuming a certain amount of risk as our joy-infused birthright–and then celebrating the walk, describing the walk, sharing the discoveries we made on the walk–to this outlandish claustrophobia?

What is Renkl’s point even? That only white people can take a walk without fear of danger? That “the human world” is such in such an apocalyptic state that no-one can? All I know is that the cultural elite can hardly read a freaking book any more without pursing their lips, applying the lens of identity politics, and decades or even centuries after the fact declaring the work (inevitably) unenlightened, racist and -phobic something or other.

I started to re-read “Tinker Creek” a year or so ago and found it kind of overblown (as did Renkl)–but to judge a piece on its merits vs. through an ideology are two very different things…

Lack of joy requires no work, no sacrifice, no creativity, no real thought. It’s like a virus that seems to infect through the news, social media, the general zeitgeist in which almost imperceptibly people becomes the enemy, the adversary, the other…

I am hardly a sunny type by nature but I have not (yet) become too paranoid to take a simple walk, nor so swayed by popular prejudice that I can’t enjoy a book of the time and place it was written, nor so suffused with guilt that I have to go about apologizing for existing. The Lord knows I have plenty else to apologize for, but my existence, again, I celebrate–in fear and trembling!

It’s a huge gift that the two places where I spend much of my time–church and recovery circles–are suffused with the Resurrection.

Daily I see light shining in the midst of darkness, broken lives beginning to be made whole, humor defeating despair, random acts of kindness, the fruit of humble, contrite hearts (usually with lots of swearing), prayer in action. We leave politics, ideology and outside issues at the door and deal, in the roughest, most seemingly ordinary, humdrum ways with our spirits, our consciences, our hearts and our souls.

We try to get rigorously honest, we make direct amends to the people we’ve harmed, we develop a relationship with a Power greater than ourselves.

And it’s all so interesting and ever-unfolding and absorbing that I’m often brought up short by the viewpoint of much of the rest of the world.

Then again, of course, I’m utterly blind to my own biases.

“What do you want from me?” Christ asked.

Help me to see.

Not through rose-colored glasses: Christ came to bring a sword.

But clearly. With eyes guided by love.

Because he also came so our joy might be complete (John 15:11).


  1. This is so true! I remember in college having to defend Dulcinea in Don Quijote because the professor felt she was a downtrodden anti-feminist antihero and St Teresa of Avila was a deluded , mentally ill victim of the evil patriarchy! Basically ruining the beauty of the Golden Age because of modern political correctness.
    Yes, life is a vale of tears, but where there is beauty and joy, let us acknowledge it.

  2. Anonymous says: Reply

    Marvelous, Heather. I live in the middle of a militantly rigid blue bubble (Cambridge/Boston) and the disapproval & judgmentalism is suffocating. Even gardening is a battleground to prove how “aware” you are of environmental issues! I nearly gave it up a few years ago, because I felt so guilty about enjoying non-native flowers…. I could go on and on, but I’m so glad that you’ve spoken out begging for joy…

  3. Michael Stanley says: Reply

    Heather, you wrote: “Lack of joy requires no work, no sacrifice, no creativity, no real thought.” I am no logician, but logically mustn’t the negative be true as well-that joy requires work, sacrifice, creativity, and real thought.

    Perhaps because of the apocalyptic theme of the era, Jesus asked: “when I return will I find faith upon on the Earth?” Faith can be, and I would argue, must be applied to any of the spiritual aspects of life, (prayer, gratitude, holiness, the sacraments, good deeds) including, joy. For some of us it sometimes takes an extraordinary effort to look only to the “author of finisher of our faith” and not upon one’s own particular grievous circumstances -with ourselves, others and with the world- in order to enter into the “joy of the Lord”. Fortunately ( providentially) you have a simple child like faith that understands that joy is possible and delicious, though I would guess, not without some blood, sweat and tears over the years…and faith. As an ever increasing claustrophobic cynic I am envious. Perhaps instead of growing older I need to become more childlike. Thanks for the encouragement.

  4. Thank you, and Amen.

  5. Tend Your sick ones, O Lord Jesus Christ; rest Your weary ones; bless Your dying ones; soothe Your suffering ones; pity Your afflicted ones; shield Your joyous ones; and all for Your love’s sake. St Augustine

  6. Thank you for these responses…I so get it: even gardening becomes some weird kind of fraught battleground…underneath the surface annoyance is a real sense that I no longer recognize the world and culture in which I live…we have created for ourselves an existential alienation that in its way is more horrifying than any work of science fiction…The worst of it is that this atmosphere of constant criticism and accusation tends to squelch all in is that is genuine, openhearted, spontaneously open, and good…”I so feel for the homeless people!” you remark, and someone is sure to sniff, “They’re not homeless; they’re unhoused”…I mean really, what is the purpose of this kind of one-upsmanship nitpicking, except to allow the people who practice it to feel superior to everyone else? Surely the naked poor soul on the corner talking to his sock doesn’t give two hoots if you refer to him as homeless or unhoused. The sad part is that next time you keep your compassionate thoughts and genuine concern to yourself…next time you don’t write about the Vietnamese-born dancer at all for fear you’ll say Vietnamese-American instead of American-Vietnamese or just American or just Vietnamese or maybe the new rule is you’re not allowed to mention anyone’s nationality at all because that excludes certain people and is disrespectful, colonialist and, like everything else you think, do or say, no matter how motivated by kindness, curiosity, and frlendliness, somehow “racist”….

    The solution, as far as I can see, is to continue to try to be as curious, respectful and openhearted as possible and to look for the same in others…where, invariably, if I search hard enough, it’s to be found….

  7. Anonymous says: Reply

    We all need to here from you Heather. I know I needed this reminder today. God bless you !❤️

  8. Anonymous says: Reply

    THANK YOU! Dearest Heather! for not cow towing to the frenzied fear mongering that we have allowed to become our civilized society!

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Ha ha, yes, the real revolution is to refuse (insofar as possible which for me often isn’t very far) to succumb to fear…

  9. Melanie Poser says: Reply

    I try very hard to be joyful with those who are joyful, compassionate with those who are sick or sorrowed, spending time with those who are lonely. No matter how l feel, l do this for love of God and neighbor.

  10. Anonymous says: Reply

    Boy, I was already afraid to talk due to my alcoholic-dysfunctional family-but this New fear of people & communication! it’s absurd & VERY ‘AGENDA’ driven!!!
    And wouldn’t you know it, I feel safest in recovery rooms, where we’ve ALL been to hell-and have found a way out for one another-without abuse, apology, or an AGENDA-except to recover one day at a time, with God’s help (and that is a God of our understanding).

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Yes, the level of fear and distrust that goes naturally with alcoholism and families affected by alcoholism hardly needs cultural enhancing! Nonetheless as you say let’s gravitate toward the places where and the people with whom we do feel safe, and where we can talk about the matters of the spirit that consume us…thanks so much for your thoughtful note!


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