Today Facebook reminded me of this quotation I’d posted a few years ago from Brother Alois’ 2018 letter:
In privileged circles, where people are well fed, well educated, and well taken care of, joy is sometimes absent, as if some people were worn out and discouraged by the banality of their lives.
At times, paradoxically, the encounter with a destitute person communicates joy, perhaps only a spark of joy, but an authentic joy nonetheless.
This reminded me of what has been among the most joyful times of my life – the semester I lived at a homeless shelter as part of an intentional community at the Calgary Mustard Seed.
Brother Alois begins his letter:
A young woman who was very ill said to me last year, “I love life.” I remain deeply moved by the inner joy that filled her, in spite of the narrow limits imposed by her illness. I was touched not only by her words, but by the beautiful expression on her face.
It was the same with my friends at the Mustard Seed, and I recall one resident in particular who told me, with the utmost sincerity, “I believe in life.”
I did not shy away from philosophical questions there. On another occasion, I asked someone who lived at the shelter, “What fulfills your life and gives you happiness? The Mustard Seed resident replied, “A conversation.”
Eventually we got a donated subscription to The Calgary Herald and I asked my neighbours whether they had been reading it to which one candidly replied, “I read the obituaries every day and when I don’t see my name in them, it makes my day.”
Those with whom I lived that semester had very difficult lives. Perhaps many of them would not have described their own lives as joyful. Yet there were so frequently those sparks of authentic joy that emerged in the realness of our encounters that were without any pretensions or expectations.