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Does Your Religion Bring You Joy?

by Rabbi Rami ShapiroJune 02, 2019
Woman having joy in nature

Photo: Taylor Ann Wright/Unsplash

“Ask yourself: What in your religious and spiritual life brings you joy?”

I’m a Marie Kondo fan and a devotee of the joy of tidying up. I go through my closet and office shelves at least twice a year and ask of each item “Does this bring me joy?” If the answer is “yes” I thank the item and return it to its place. If the answer is “no” I thank the item and pass it on.

It occurred to me the other day that I might benefit from tidying up my spiritual and religious life as well. So I went through the hundreds of Jewish traditions and mitzvot (commandments) and discovered that only seven bring me joy: kashrut (elevating my consumption of goods and services to the highest ethical and environment standard I can muster), Shabbat (setting aside one day per week to live without coercive action; see “13 Steps to a Holy Day” as an example), Sukkot (“Jewish thanksgiving” celebrating the unity of masculine and feminine within and without, and learning to live wisely with impermanence and insecurity by studying the Book of Ecclesiastes with friends), limmud Torah (contemplative/creative engagement with Jewish texts), tzedakah (earning money honestly and sharing it generously), hagah (literally “cooing,” the repetition of Hebrew mantra), hitbonenut (meditation), and loving neighbor and stranger or what I call being a blessing to all the families of the earth, human and otherwise (see Genesis 12:3).

I’ve been asking the joy question of people I meet this way: Does your religion bring you joy? The response I hear most often is “no”. One woman put it this way:

“I don’t expect joy from my religion. I expect salvation. Salvation doesn’t bring me joy, but it does bring me a sense of satisfaction.”

Satisfaction in the sense that you are saved and I am not, I asked?

“Well I wouldn’t put it like that, but yes. Yes that is what I mean.”

A Jewish fellow told me, “Judaism isn’t about joy but loyalty to one’s people and one’s God.”

But why shouldn’t religion be about joy?

Joy as I understand joy is a sense of deep seated wellbeing arising from my knowing the unity of all life in, with and as the singular Life I call God (Brahman, Mother, Tao, Allah, etc.). So, why shouldn’t religion be about joy? If your religion doesn’t cultivate this knowing in you, and therefore can’t give rise to joy, why adhere to it at all?

So ask yourself: What in your religious and spiritual life brings you joy? Do you find joy in church, synagogue, mosque, or temple? Do you find joy in your meditation or prayer life? Do you find joy in the beliefs you hold? And if you don’t, why stick with them?

For a video on awakening joy through prana, click here

Rabbi Rami Shipiro

Rabbi Rami Shapiro is an award-winning author, essayist, poet, and teacher. His spiritual advice column, “Roadside Assistance for the Spiritual Traveler,” addresses reader questions pertaining to religion, spirituality, faith, family, God, social issues, and more. His latest book is Surrendered—The Sacred Art: Shattering the Illusion of Control and Falling into Grace with Twelve-Step Spirituality.

He has this to say about religion: “To me, religions are like languages: no language is true or false; all languages are of human origin; each language reflects and shapes the mindset of the civilization that speaks it; there are things you can say in one language that you cannot say or cannot say as well in another; and the more languages you know, the more nuanced your understanding of life. Judaism is my mother tongue, yet in matters of the spirit I strive to be multi-lingual. In the end, however, the deepest language of the soul is silence.”

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