Discovering Delight

Mini-Reflection #73 (25th June 2023 at Essex Church / Kensington Unitarians)

I settled on ‘Discovering Delight’ for the title of our service today – mainly chosen for alliteration purposes, now I come to think of it – because to talk about ‘discovering’ delight isn’t quite right. Or at least it doesn’t tell the full story. For me, ‘Discovering’ suggests unexpectedly tripping over delight, happening upon it, chancing on delight almost accidentally. And of course that does happen.

But the core message of this service – and the thing I love most about Ross Gay’s approach – is that he speaks of developing a ‘delight radar’ and strengthening his ‘delight muscles’. It’s not a passive process. In making a practice of delight – committing to noticing one moment of delight each day and writing it down – he trains himself to become more sensitive to it. His ‘delight radar’ becomes ever more finely tuned. This makes sense from a neuroplasticity point of view too – we develop our neural circuits by repeatedly looking out for delightful happenings – and in time we’ll find them even easier to notice.

Ross Gay is no Pollyanna – he sees all too clearly what is wrong in the world – he does not deny the very real suffering and injustice that is all around him – but with this practice of delight he does not allow himself to sink into hopelessness and despair about it either. Paying attention to what is good – what is still good, and delightful, despite everything – can potentially get us into a virtuous circle. As we notice where our moments of delight are coming from – the people, the places, the activities – we can move towards those sources of joy and even make more intentional space for them in our life.

And we might even choose to see this as an act of defiance, or resistance, against those social and economic forces which seem to squeeze much of the joy out of living for so many of us. For anyone who is struggling to stay afloat, working all hours to make ends meet, holding on to our sources of delight in the face of it all might be seen as a way of asserting our inherent worth and dignity. When we are in tough circumstances it may be that small delights give us the juice to carry on. I’ve put a quote on the order of service today which speaks to that: Rose Kennedy said ‘Birds sing after a storm; why shouldn’t people feel as free to delight in whatever sunlight remains to them?’

So the take-home message today is a pretty simple one – in theory at least – over the coming days I invite you to have a go at tuning your ‘delight radar’ or building your ‘delight muscles’. Each day this week, see if you can notice one moment of delight, and write it down (or, even better, share your moment of delight, by telling someone else about it). Ross Gay’s book came to my attention when he was recently interviewed on a favourite podcast, ‘We Can Do Hard Things’, and the couple who host the show said that they’d got into the habit of saying ‘Delight!’ to each other, every time one of them encounters a new delight in the wild. It’s become A Thing They Do. That practice of noticing and sharing reinforces an uplifting spiral. Bonus points for noticing delights in as varied a range of settings as possible – let your delights be both silly and serious – maybe use your senses and find delights you can see, hear, taste, touch, and smell. And I’d encourage you to share some of your recent delights with each other after the service, over tea and cake, in the chat box on Zoom, or maybe in the congregational WhatsApp group. There’s your challenge – or your invitation, shall we say – for the week to come.

Mini-Reflection by Jane Blackall

An audio recording of this sermon is available: