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Let’s not forget about joy (an ode to the Chewbacca Lady)

Ashley Hales

Late last week I clicked on a video that several friends had shared and found myself belly laughing in the middle of my living room. Candace Payne, a mother from Texas, won over the Internet with a four-minute video in which she spends most of the time cracking herself up with a present that “is part of [her] birthday joy” — a Chewbacca mask that growls when the mouth is opened. The confluence of her laughing and Chewie’s guttural groan sends her again and again into guffaws. The video is good for a laugh, but why did it go viral? What collective nerve did the Chewbacca Lady hit?

In the United States, we’re smack dab in an election season that is becoming increasingly strident and polarizing. Christians on both sides of the aisle are blocking friends on Facebook who are spouting differing political opinions. We are more prone to despair about the future of America, no matter which candidate wins. The news is also saturated with stories of terror. In the last several days, we’ve heard speculation that terrorism was involved in the EgyptAir Flight 804 crash; that schools in Northern Ireland canceled their trip to the Euro Cup in France over fears of terrorist attacks; and the director of Europol saying “an attack is almost certain.” It’s easy to get swept to and fro by such dire news, yet Christians are called not to despair, but to something greater: joy. The Chewbacca Lady tapped into our need to laugh, and our need to find joy.

We tend to forget in the middle of the political pundits, civil unrest and terrorist speculations that we are not only drawn to joy, but are also called to practice it. Joy feels foreign when it seems as if the world is off-kilter. But from the beginning of time, joy has been the song of all creation to the God of the universe, for even the “trees of the forest sing … for joy.” The Psalms give poetic form to a joy that is not circumstantial, but something much deeper. Many of the Psalms were born from suffering. Yet again and again we hear that God himself is the “joy of salvation” and that the psalmist’s heart “faints for the courts of the Lord.” Joy takes us by surprise. It seems out of place — like seeing Candace Payne in fits of laughter in the middle of a parking lot.

Joy takes us by surprise. It seems out of place.

In Surprised by Joy, C. S. Lewis wrote, “Joy is distinct not only from pleasure in general but even from aesthetic pleasure. It must have the stab, the pang, the inconsolable longing.” That is, joy points us beyond our circumstances to final fulfillment in heaven. It’s the sort of thing that we have hints of now, but must be patient to receive in full. Candace Payne tells her viewers to “be patient, people” while she leads up to the unveiling of the Chewbacca mask. The fullness of joy will be worth the wait. It is what Tim Keller once described in a sermon as the “already” here of the Kingdom and the “not yet,” where we wait for its consummation. We can both experience joy now and long for its fullness in heaven. And laughter helps remind us of our joy.

Jonathan Edwards wrote in "The Religious Affections" that “a great part of religion lies in the affections,” of which joy and love are central. Describing those who received the letter we know as 1 Peter, Edwards says that “their inward spiritual joys were greater than their sufferings.” We are hungry for a joy that bubbles up uncontrollably, like Candace Payne’s laughter. We long for a current of joy that keeps us stable no matter our circumstances. We want something as simple as a Chewbacca mask to help us experience delight, especially when the world feels bleak. As people living out and longing for the Kingdom of God, we are called to joy.

This does not mean, of course, that we sit back and do not take part in political processes or that we do not strive toward mercy, justice and love of neighbor. Yet even in that good work, we must remember that “our citizenship is in heaven.” The Chewbacca Lady reminds us, albeit in a lighthearted way, that we are drawn to unfettered joy. We want to be captivated by the affections of the Kingdom. We are called to practice joy, to find — as Candace Payne says while howling with laughter — “the simple joys.” May we lean into the joy of our salvation.

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