Joy is the Only Psychological Fact

“All day I think about it, then at night I say it:
Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing?
I have no idea. My soul is from elsewhere,
I am sure of that, and I intend to end up there.

This drunkenness began in some other tavern.
When I get back around to that place, I’ll be completely
sober. Meanwhile, I’m like a bird from another continent.
They day is coming when I fly off,
but who is it now in my ear who hears my voice?

Who says words with my mouth?
Who looks out with my eyes? What is the soul?
I cannot stop asking. If I could taste one sip
Of an answer, I could break out of this prison for drunks.
I didn’t come here of my own accord,
and I can’t leave that way.
Whoever brought me here will have to take me home.”

-Rumi (Trans. Coleman Barks)
Some somber athiestic type people I have heard will often softly grumble to themselves that people believe in God because of a left-over childhood feeling of dependence. I presume they assert things like this to each other, not only to affirm their belief that God does not in fact exist, but because they think there is a soft-hearted and soft-headed weakness to believing in something just to make you feel better. They think, in their high-mindedness, that believing in the “cold, hard truth” of self-reliance is more austere, more noble, more intellectual, more mature. They think that they perpetual child, the person who is constantly ascribing his happiness or lack thereof to some parental agent outside of themselves is doomed to being a victim and a puppet their whole lives, never claiming the responsibility that is rightfully theirs, never taking life by the horns and making the best of it.

I think what these somber grown-up athiest-type people miss is the unbearable joy of dependence. A young man once asked his master (I believe I read this of Coleman Barks), “What is it like being enlightened?” His master said nothing, but made little sucking noises with his mouth, like a child at the breast.

There are many scientific and philosophical mysteries. What is gravity, what is light, what is knowledge, what is being, who is God… The simplest and greatest psychological mystery is also a mystery of science and of philosophy… Who am I? Who are you? Who are we? What are we?


I do not know the answers to these questions. I wish I did. I have learned one small tidbit, however. Who I am, whoever that is, is someone totally and utterly and absolute dependent on another for my very being, my movement, my life.

This fact, rather than causing me to feel sadness, resignation or depression, sprouts in me an unspeakable joy. Why? If I do not have to sustain my own being, I can get busy being happy. If I do not have to create my own movement, I can direct movement freely towards flight and music. If I do not have to sustain my own life, I can concern myself with living abundantly. Socrates once observed that the human soul, once in existence, cannot be destroyed. I do not know who is sustaining me, but I know they are doing a good job. I don’t have to worry about it! After being and life, who cares if food, money, friends, worldly good are provided? These are paltry compared to the greater gifts of movement and awareness, which will never be removed, but only, if handled correctly, increased.

Children feel happy because they depend entirely on their parents. Everything is taken care of; there is nothing to worry about. Grown-ups discover concerns and become worried. Even-more-grown-ups, those who find their second childhood, discover that there is someone taking care of everything, and they entirely trust this parent, and they feel happy.

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Posted by Keith E. Buhler


  1. Hi, Keith!

    Well-articulated, as is consonant with this blog in general. I appreciate both your attempt to quell a false sense of entitlement and cultivate a right sense of gratitude in our lives as responsive thanksgiving to the gracious bounty of our heavenly Father (how Calvin, incidentally, decides to conceive of the Eucharist).

    I am having a little difficulty finding complete consistency between this post and the last, however, which relates to an honest question of mine for some time: Does not our creation, our contingent existence, “demand” things of God, for lack of a better term? If you see a competent adult individual sitting on your doorstep you might call the police, ask what he’s doing there, or tell him to move along. If you see a crying baby on your doorstep, you are morally obligated to provide more care for it than you would for someone who has greater power, volition, understanding, etc. Does this analogy in any way hold true of God?

    Of course, any “obligations” on the Divine can only be those self-imposed by his Nature, but it seems as if – in his act of creating, and his continual act in sustaining, life that desires him and cannot reach him – he has made us entitled to his care, in our very inability to demand anything. Thoughts?


  2. Good question amie.

    The difference between us and the baby on the door step is that the baby already existed (in this example) and somehow appeared at somebody’s door. At that point, there is some obligation (I agree) to taking care of the child.

    God had a choice whether or not to even bring us into existence. The ancient churched prayed, and in some places still does, a prayer of thanksgiving “For bringing us from nothingness into being.” John Chrysostem I believe. Mere creation is a loving act.

    This mere existence is cause for unutterable gratitude.

    Upon having existed, we are not just A baby on a door step, we are God’s baby on God’s doorstep. Of course he is going to take care of us. But it will not be out of vague ‘obligation,’ but, again, out of superlative love.

    The proper response to love is gratitude and thanksgiving and joy.

    Somehow people get the idea that regularity of a gift somehow dampens the requisite gratitude. If a wife regularly and consistently receives money from her husband, money for which he works long hours in a difficult job, she is tempted to begin to lose her sense of gratitude. It is probably, in fact, difficult to receive so much (’tis more humbling to receive than to give). But the regularity ought not diminish thanksgiving; rather, it should increase it.

    God has, does, and will unfailingly provide for our every need. We ought to work towards habituating our feelings to fit this fact. He will even help us to do that!


  3. Thank you for this post.


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