Particularly in light of the trauma of last week’s shooting on the campus of the University of North Carolina, people have shared their anxiety about the future. Folks tell me that they are worried that everything is going wrong in the world. Do I have any advice?
I respond that, over the past month, I’ve seen a dozen red-tailed hawks. Not that I’ve spent much time hiking. I’ve spotted these birds while driving on my typical errands. I’ll happen to look up and spot a hawk scowling like a judge from a telephone pole or catch a glimpse of one zipping through the air like a thrown knife into a tree. I began to wonder if these sightings were a message from God or some omen about the future.
My wise wife told me that I was seeing lots of hawks precisely because I was looking for hawks!
Wendell Berry, one of my favorite writers, counsels, “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.” Facts like the rise in global temperatures, sea levels and school shootings. Berry’s wisdom implies that joy is not separate from worry or even sorrow. While there is much that you and I cannot control, we can decide what to focus on.
I’m not trying to persuade you, gentle reader, to ignore the serious, troublesome and tragic news around you, either in Chatham County or the larger world. Field mice should be worried about hawks and the safety of their kiddos. We should likewise be concerned about climate change and gun violence.
I’m also not suggesting that you “don’t worry, be happy” or “turn that frown upside down.” Joy is not the same as happiness. As the children’s book puts it, sometimes you have a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
What, then, is joy? I think joy is a way to exist in the world with all the bad news. Joy is an act of resistance by becoming more present to the moment, particularly giving attention to the beautiful. I mean, have you ever seen a hawk drop from the sky? It takes my breath away.
Maybe the point is that I’m less interested in figuring out what the sighting of a hawk might mean in the cosmic sense, as I am enjoying it — appreciating the joy in it. Maybe you could try and do the same. When you feel like everything is going wrong in the world, you could try looking up and noticing a beautiful something.
Andrew Taylor-Troutman is the pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.