Thursday, March 04, 2021


Title: The Gravity of Joy
Author: Angela Williams Gorrell
Pages: 245
Publisher: Eerdmans
My GoodReads Rating: 

The Gravity of Joy tries to understand and measure the concept and feeling of joy against research done from multiple disciplines. The author, who describes herself as a practical theologian, has proposed that joy be a counteragent to America’s crisis of despair.

In early 2016, Angela was hired by the Yale Center of Faith and Culture to work on the Theology of Joy and the Good Life project. At this point, she was full of hope and the future filled with possibilities. Within a year, she lost three family members within four weeks. Her cousin’s husband died by suicide, her nephew died of a heart attack, and her father died as a result of illness stemming from his opioid addiction.

Through the throes of her sorrow, Angela felt that life was not joyful. It was a long walk towards death. She felt suddenly ill equipped to discuss joy, let alone teach others to strive to achieve it.

Struggling with grief, Angela became part of a team leading a Bible study at a women’s prison. It was there that she became aware of the helplessness of the lives of the female convicts, how badly the odds were stacked against them, and how they cling to hope. These women acted as the friends who took the lame man on a mat to Jesus. Lost herself, Angela helped the prison women and was helped by them in turn.

The author’s experience in the prison ministry touches our hearts, making women like Amy, Gloria and Jayla and many others real to us. Her experience there proves that Joy has grit… Joy has a mysterious capacity to be felt alongside sorrow and even -- sometimes most especially -- in the midst of suffering.

It is these experiences, combined with stories from her life and other observations that make up the book.


Each chapter begins with a verse from a famous writer, such as Rainer Marie Rilke, the Psalms, Acts of the Apostles etc. This quote sets the tone for the chapter.

Angela relates her commentary to relatable events, such as Anthony Bourdain’s death by suicide, even as he projected joy and passion for his work. Along the way, we get introduced to poems like Walt Whitman’s “O Me! O Life!” along with bits of her course work that she teaches at Life Worth Living.

The writing style is engaging, friendly and meaningful. The author writes candidly on subjects that must have been painful to write about, in particular, her father’s addiction to opioid pills and how they altered his personality.

With time, Angela learns that It is incredibly difficult to lovingly bear witness to grief rather than walking away or trying to fix it. It is much harder to share space with grief, to breathe its pungent air.

Talking to the family members of young people who have given in to their addictions, she creates a counter to the culture of despair. She encourages us to name and acknowledge our emotions, particularly our grief and fears.

The author gives us real examples of young people driven to death on account of addictions. She accurately spells out what is wrong with the world today. The fact that social media has influenced us to believe that life matters only if there are high impact achievements. And that people obsess over ways to market their life better as if they were products instead of human beings.

Part of facing emotions is attending to grief through deep listening. To lament openly the things that bring us pain and to search hard for beauty.

Angela draws parallels between her own situation and Holy Saturday’s unique place in Christ’s Passion. She likens Holy Saturday to the in-between space when we no longer feel overwhelming grief but comfort and meaning are beyond our reach too. In this space, she realises that The God who sometimes is shrouded in sheer silence is apparently also the God of marching bands.

She urges us to seek joy and meaning in the midst of grief and reminds us to forge connections and listen to one another’s stories with empathy. So we realise we matter.

Through her experiences with grieving, Angela clarifies how joy and meaning can help us beat sorrow. Despair struggles to breathe where meaning resides.

(I read this book through NetGalley. Thank you, NetGalley, the author and the publisher.)

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