To commit to Joy and Justice and Celebration, as Barbara Ehrenreich does, is to commit to Compassion.  As Meister Eckhart tells us, “what happens to another, whether it be a joy or a sorrow, happens to me.” 

“The Henna Artist Tattooing the Heads of Cancer Patients” for empowerment, confidence…and a message. Great Big Story

Here Eckhart names the essence of compassion which is acting out of a consciousness of interdependence.  Such a consciousness steps out of our ego self and false selves, and journeys deeper to our true self, the self that is in tune with and communion with other selves. 

Compassion therefore is one-half about relieving one another’s sorrow (through work for justice and healing including the structural causes of injustice); and it is also one-half about celebration and joy.  We share one another’s joy as well as one another’s sorrows.

Joy as integral to justice and compassion can be regularly ignored in a sin-based religious consciousness that is ill at ease with ecstasy because, as Augustine said about sex, one “loses control.”  This patriarchal hang up is washed away by Ehrenreich’s excellent study on Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy.

The late Gabrielle Roth, creator of Five Rhythms Dance, speaks of the need to “Retrieve Your Soul Through Dance.”
Omega Institute for Holistic Studies

Justice and Joy come together also insofar as Justice levels the playing field so that more persons can experience joy.  Consider the goal of unions whose purpose when healthy is to empower workers so that their basic needs are met regarding compensation for work performed,  working conditions, etc.

About joy, Rabbi Heschel says:

God is not only the creator of earth and heaven.  He is also the One ‘who creates delight and joy’….Even lowly merriment has its ultimate origin in holiness.  The fire of evil can be better fought with flames of ecstasy than through fasting and mortifications. A new prohibition was added [by Hasidism]: ‘Thou shalt not be old!’

“Compassion means justice” for Eckhart; but it also means celebration.  As with Barbara Ehrenreich.


See Fox, The Reinvention of Work, especially Part III on Reinventing Ritual, pp. 91-112, 249-295.  

See also, Fox, Naming the Unnameable: 89 Wonderful and Useful Names for God…Including the Unnameable God, pp. 37f.

Also see Fox, Original Blessing, pp. 277-292.

To read the transcript for Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image: Dance Protest for Extinction Rebellion, Melbourne, 2019. Photo by Julian Meehan on Flickr.

Queries for Contemplation

Do you agree with Heschel that “even lowly merriment has its ultimate origin in holiness”?  What follows from that?


Recommended Reading

The Reinvention of Work: A New Vision of Livelihood For Our Time

Thomas Aquinas said, “To live well is to work well,” and in this bold call for the revitalization of daily work, Fox shares his vision of a world where our personal and professional lives are celebrated in harmony–a world where the self is not sacrificed for a job but is sanctified by authentic “soul work.”
“Fox approaches the level of poetry in describing the reciprocity that must be present between one’s inner and outer work…[A]n important road map to social change.” ~~ National Catholic Reporter

Naming the Unnameable: 89 Wonderful and Useful Names for God …Including the Unnameable God

Too often, notions of God have been used as a means to control and to promote a narrow worldview. In Naming the Unnameable, renowned theologian and author Matthew Fox ignites our imaginations by offering a colorful range of Divine Names gathered from scientists and poets and mystics past and present, inviting us to always begin where true spirituality begins: from experience.
“This book is timely, important and admirably brief; it is also open ended—there are always more names to come, and none can exhaust God’s nature.” -Rupert Sheldrake, PhD, author of Science Set Free and The Presence of the Past

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5 thoughts on “Joy + Justice = Compassion”

  1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    Matthew, Today you tell us that to commit to Joy and Justice and Celebration, as Barbara Ehrenreich does, is to commit to Compassion. And you also tell us that compassion is one-half about relieving one another’s sorrow (through work for justice and healing); and it is also one-half about celebration and joy. We share one another’s joy as well as one another’s sorrows. Sounds like the Via Transformativa to me! You write: “Joy as integral to justice and compassion can be regularly ignored in a sin-based religious consciousness that is ill at ease with ecstasy because, as Augustine said about sex, one ‘loses control.’ This patriarchal hang up is washed away by Ehrenreich’s excellent study on Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy.” Then you end with some Rabbi Heschel for good measure. For him, the God of joy makes things such that “even lowly merriment has its ultimate origin in holiness”?

  2. Avatar

    Thank so much Mathew for bringing together for all of us suffering and praise. Your DM’s have helped me personally. My own childhood was one of severe emotional abuse and moderate physical abuse. As a psychologist I have had the privilege of clients, many with severe illness and cancer, who I feel taught me as much as I taught them in great joy coming out of great suffering in their/my life. Witnessing their transformation helped me witness my own. For too long I have been saying “Why my childhood?” “Why was I born now in these seemingly darkening times?” Recently I am shifting in my morning prayers to being grateful and praising God for the privilege of my life and being here now with contrasting Darkness and Light in me, the clients I have had the privilege to serve, and all who triumph over suffering in our world, Now! “It takes time. We are growing and learning how to be
    compassionate, how to be human.” Desmond Tutu… If time permits see two of my clients who have passed: https://drdarrylpokea.com/testimonials/

  3. Avatar

    Thank you so much Mathew for expanding on Joy and Justice, and making the connection to Compassion. It has helped me to understand yesterday and today’s DM. Another aha moment for me today, was when you mentioned the word “serious”, in relationship to seeking justice and the need to go deeper, beyond this. This for me personally reminded me of the importance of moving from the head down into the heart, as well as the need to balance the masculine energies with the feminine energies when seeking justice… which leads to the joy of compassionately sharing in the suffering of another, in positive, creative and transformational ways; in which both are healed. As I reflect on my caregiving work with the elders over the years, I recognize how often the reciprosity of receiving as much as I gave and vice versa… unfolded, evolved and emerged within the intimacey and vulnerability of our relationships. This acknowledgement brought joyful memories of compassion shared in my own walk with justice, that I am grateful to have been reminded of, through your DM’s offered these past two days. Thank you, once again for this blessing.

  4. Avatar

    There seems to be several words in our mystical traditions to describe God’s Living Spirit of Divine Love Present within, through, and among us, especially in our compassionate relations with one another, Mother Nature, and All of Living~Evolving co-Creation~Cosmos…. The spiritual journeys of our eternal souls seems to be deepening this awareness/transformation/consciousness of our Diverse Loving Oneness… In Christian terms it would be Being~becoming our Beloved Cosmic Christ Consciousness….
    ?❤️??

  5. Avatar

    I love Heschel’s comment. I do not know what he meant by “lowly merriment” but agree that it stems from holiness because any attempt to lighten the darkness is holy and sacred. We do tend to take ourselves so seriously and therefore miss seeing the whole, which includes joy and humor. How can we be a light and inspiration to ourselves and others when all we project is soberness—-that is just deadening.

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