Finding Joy on the Sea of Galilee

- September 14, 2011

"Joy has the power to lead us out of our minds and into our souls"

Israel is well known for sites sacred to Jews, Christians, and Muslims, but on a recent trip there, I had an unexpected spiritual experience in a surprising place: a tourist boat on the Sea of Galilee.

As my wife, son, and I set out to enjoy a beautiful afternoon on the water, a group of mostly elderly Sephardic Israelis (Jews of Middle Eastern origin) boarded with us. We congregated at the back of the boat under an awning that provided welcome shade from the already hot sun.

Soon after the boat pulled away from the dock, the captain started blaring Sephardic-style Israeli pop music over the sound system. A youngish member of the elderly group got up and encouraged the rest of her friends to follow her and dance. Slowly, a good number of them joined in. Each person moved as his or her body allowed. But it wasn't their dance moves that mattered; the unbridled joy and happiness radiating from these elderly dancers transformed the entire boat into a wondrous celebration of life. (The highlight of the dancing was a man in his 80s who tossed his cane away as he gingerly boogied to the cheering crowd.)

In the Book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon shares the wisdom he had gained after many years on the throne. Solomon wrote, "Thus I perceive that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and do good in life. Indeed every man who eats and drinks and finds satisfaction in all his labor -- this is a gift from God." The Sephardic dancers epitomized this wisdom. They took a simple, ordinary moment and elevated it to something sublime through the boundless joy emanating from them.

The joy of the dancers and their friends ignited joy in me. It reminded me that it doesn't take much to connect to it. Joy has the power to lead us out of our minds and into our souls. The troubles of our lives and world fall away in intense moments of happiness. Making these moments a regular part of our lives has the power to change how we relate to our difficulties and what actions we take to overcome them. Moreover, joy is infectious. Radiating our light has the potential to ignite it in those around us.

One's circumstances have nothing to do with transforming something ordinary into something transcendent; we all have this ability. It was evident to me that the elderly Israelis on the boat had led hard lives. Sephardic Jews of their generation left the countries where they were born with little more than the clothes on their backs. They built lives from scratch under life-threatening conditions as the reborn state of Israel fought for her survival with few resources and few friends. They are models that the ability to connect to our spiritual essence knows no bounds or restrictions.

What ordinary moments bring you intense joy? Is it seeing a magnificent sunset? Hearing a song you love? Holding an innocent child's hand? Completing a challenging task at work?

I encourage you to embrace joyful moments as the gifts that they are. As Solomon wrote, they are gifts from God. All too often we are too busy to notice them. If you are up for it, you might want to do a little dance right now, let the joy of being alive overwhelm you, and celebrate this precious, unique moment.

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