News and the Good News

What Bliss!

February 23, 2021

'What do you know about bliss?' someone asked me. Before I could answer, he explained that he was talking about a recently released movie.  He was not asking me about the emotional, spiritual state of perfect happiness or delight. Too bad, I thought. It's too bad,that I, as a clergyperson, have not been asked often about bliss. Part of the reason for this is that the word sounds archaic or more at home in days past. Bliss is no longer an everyday word. And when words fall out of usage, so, too, in a way, does our attention to the things they signify. We don't hear the word bliss often enough to set ourselves to thinking about it, much less pursuing it. That's my first hunch. My second hunch is that when a culture's emphasis is one-sidedly on technololgical progress, changing the world, and making things work, well, it's easy to see how the pursuit of happiness gets relegated. And, of course, when life is so hard for so many, with many struggling just to make a living, pursuing bliss seems like a pursuit for the privileged, the so-called leisured class. Talk of bliss invites, in some quarters, in light of human hardships, a sharp moral critique. Talk of bliss in God often triggers an even more impassioned scold. 'When there is so much to do, so much to change, so much wrong in the world,' so the reproach goes, 'talk of bliss is an evasion of responsibility!'  Given these givens, it is not surprising that I am not asked about bliss, and that we don't (it seems to me) talk much about it.

But we should talk about bliss, talk more and unaplogetically so. And we should seek it. We know that Jesus found delight in God in his praying, in his reliance on God, in his use of the Psalms (which often testify to bliss in God), and in the carrying out of his mission. Isn't it interesting that Jesus spoke most about joy (and love) as he journeyed to the Cross (set out in John 14-17), and the plot against him solidified, that is, when things became extremely painful and costly? His delight was to do the will, he said, of one who sent him. HIs modeling is one reason we should not cower and give into blanket criticisms of pursuing bliss and delight. There are always forces, internal and external, that want to scrub out joy! We have to resist them, and fight back. After paying close attention to the history of Jesus--and, by the way, don't we hear delight coursing through the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus speaks about God taking care of the sparrows, the lilies, and us?--after we attend to the whole of Jesus' life and his reliance on the Psalms, we might be further tutored by the hymns generated by the gospel. Our repository of hymns are themselves a collected joyful noise about finding bliss in God, God's creation, and God's mission for us. When we sing them, day by day, we redeem our time. When we sing them in all circumstances --during the pandemic, in times of stress, when life is drudgery---they redeem our work and our attitudes. They teach us that, paradoxically maybe, joy and suffering often run together. But because God and God's purposes can be affirmed here and now, and enjoyed, bliss is not endlessly deferred. Not forever a dream. It can be close at hand. Pursued and yet tasted here and now. Just affirming this is a kind of bliss. .