Joy: Our Pilgrim Status

Summit Semester Claire Verdoorn“All joy reminds.” C.S. Lewis asserts, “It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still ‘about to be’.” Abundant in adventure and rich in relationships, Summit Semester presents the ideal environment for finding joy. This I knew before I came, and so it was with high hopes that I sought out this joy. Perhaps Lewis was mistaken that joy is still “about to be”. How could there be anything but joy amongst Christian brothers and sisters, fellowshipping in a close-knit community in the wilds of Colorado, poring over the same books, eating the same delicious meals, and singing the same songs? You could, I expect, practically see the halos floating above everyone’s heads.

It was only a matter of time before I was disillusioned in the best possible way. Turns out, Lewis was right. There are ups and downs, there are days when Summit seems to enliven a person like the Narnian air, and days when it simply doesn’t. Over the past six weeks, Summit Semester has transformed my perception of joy and allowed me to value the richness and fullness of this community. It has taught me to appreciate things as they really are, not as I wish them to be. Several characteristics of joy come to mind.

First, joy is crushed by over-analysis. It does not submit easily to prying psychological questions. Often I find myself approaching a situation analytically. I can sit placidly enough by a campfire here, fingering the coarse earth and smelling the sultry smoke – until those questions creep in like half-remembered bad dreams. Am I really happy? What makes me happy? Is this as happy as I can be? Is this joy? Under this barrage of questions, joy can be squashed more quickly than a spider in dorm room.

Secondly, joy is a choice. At Summit, there are ample opportunities to be happy, whether it is road-tripping to Ouray, looking around in the reverent hush of a cathedral in Santa Fe, or taking a late-night hike across the field toward the aspen groves. However, joy must be pursued, because it goes beyond circumstance.

Let me tell you about a camping trip. We had spent the evening dancing and were tired. What could make this evening better than a camping trip under the night sky? It was a breezy 34 degrees (2 degrees in Canadian terms) with the remains of a rainstorm dripping from the trees and dampening the group. Chilly. Nine we were, who set out that day from Snow Wolf Lodge, and nine we returned on the following morning, shivering.

It was comfortable as we hiked up to the ridge, but the temperature continued to drop as the night went on. The wood was wet, but we banked up a fire and climbed into sleeping bags. Sinister clouds foreboded more rain. We had brought snacks, yes, but would they not only attract bears, mountain lions, and all kinds of evil? A few of us slept that night (I was among the number who got a good five hours) and a few of us merely shivered. The interesting thing was that we still had fun. Even when the guys returned to their lodge to find a broken boiler and no hot water.

Having joy means, I suppose, recognizing the value of good conversation around a fire. It means looking up around midnight and seeing a clear view of the starry sky. It means acknowledging one another’s strengths and giving up small things for big things.

Of course there will be problems, but the joy of Christ transcends them. Like Guido in Life is Beautiful (a Holocaust comedy we watched last week), we should face life with impetuous exuberance. Guido’s character went through a concentration camp, separation from his wife, and a struggle to protect his son, and still winked and beamed as he was…anyway, Guido modeled prime characteristics of the joyful person – selflessness, enthusiasm, genuine affection.

Lastly, and most importantly, joy reminds us of what is yet to come. In Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis describes joy as an element of “our pilgrim status”, since our joy will not be complete in our mortal lives. This could be disheartening. Is all earthly joy a farce, a travesty? Actually, whatever joy we experience here at Summit and in this life is the cold chocolate chip that reminds us of the cake waiting in the fridge. Our joy will be multiplied later on.

For now, however, joy “must have the stab, the pang, the inconsolable longing” that Lewis describes. For me so far, this pang has come while looking up from behind a waterfall, or the small shudder of the soul that follows the reading of a particularly poignant poem, or when we combined dish crews and sang everything from Fun to Twenty One Pilots to the Lion King, hands plunged in greasy water. This joy, as Dr. Williams puts it, “diverts our thoughts from the sunbeam to the sun.” We are reminded of the time when the pilgrim knocks on the gate and is welcomed into an indescribable joy.

While I’m here at Summit, I am learning to embrace the authentic, beautiful, and good in this life, by avoiding the analysis that weighs me down and choosing to be joyful. I want to live here like Reepicheep the Mouse, full of passion and excitement and appreciation of the good things, but always looking out with longing to the Utter East.

Claire Verdoorn hails from Iowa, where she currently attends Des Moines Area Community College. A lover of words, Claire is considering careers in either Journalism or Creative Writing. Learning to think deeper and gain further experience relating to others are some of Claire’s goals for her time at Summit Semester. When not in the middle of her studies, you’ll probably find Claire either in the middle of a good book, working on her own writing, or enjoying the beauty of nature. All of these can be accompanied by a cup of tea or coffee. As one of our Summit Semester musicians, Claire also plays the mandolin.