After a week in the North Atlantic Ocean, our first sight of Europe was Cape St Vincent at dawn. Cape St Vincent is the peninsula that forms the southwestern corner of Portugal on the approach to Gibralter. Of course, all ten of the passengers on this Dutch freighter bound for Beirut were up to see land. It was cloudy, but we could see the cape on one side and the Moroccan shore in the haze on the other side. I remember thinking that even if it wasn't bright, shiny and spectacular, it was beautiful. And what's more, the world was created in beauty, and we were created with an appreciation of beauty. From a strictly evolutionary viewpoint, how would you define "beauty", much less explain how we respond to it? When challenged to write about Joy, this morning, after all these years, is the first thing that came to mind. It was an overwhelming experience of God, of peace, of gratitude, the feeling that, as in the old proverb, "God is in His Heaven, and all is right with the world."
Happiness is often confused with Joy. This dawn moment was, I suppose, "happy" but it was not the predominant feeling at all. Happiness is usually a reaction to having gotten one's way about something. We are usually "happy" about something specific. Someone has done something nice for us, or paid us some positive attention, or we've beaten someone at something. It's about us, or perhaps includes someone else, but it's usually a human-scale emotion. And oddly enough, while we remember being happy, the memory doesn't have the emotional power of the original experience. I once read of an experiment involving giving love and positive attention and guidance, etc, to a group of at-risk young adolescents. At the end of a year, the experimenters realized that one reason these kids had a hard time living successfully in the real world was that they did not learn from experience, either positive or negative. They didn't learn from something that had turned out badly, and also didn't remember happiness as a motivation for doing something again that had worked out well and been enjoyed.
Joy, in the dawn there at the halfway point of our journey with the Atlantic at our backs and the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea and the unknown adventures ahead of us, was a gift. For me, this moment was about God's having given us this world to live in and appreciate, about His having reached down to reveal Himself at this time and place.