In his book The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen makes this observation about Jesus’ parables in Luke 10, featuring the shepherd looking for his lost sheep, the woman looking for her lost coin, and the father eagerly awaiting the return of his lost son—each of whom represents God: “God rejoices. Not because the problems of the world have been solved, not because all human pain and suffering have come to an end, nor because thousands of people have been converted and are now praising him for his goodness. No, God rejoices because one of his children who was lost has been found. What I am called to is to enter into that joy.”
We miss that joy, says Nouwen, because it is small, hidden, and inconspicuous. The pressure is constant, and only stronger since Nouwen wrote this in the 1990s, to only find joy in the grand, impressive, and showy. Even in matters of faith, it is easy to see God and find joy only in big, miraculous gestures of healing, conversion, worship, etc. But the understanding of joy I’ve come to at least—that joy is delight and deep contentment in the world and in ourselves because God is present in both—would say otherwise.
It is God’s presence that brings joy, not the presence of any dazzling spectacle. Sure, the spectacular might point to God’s presence. But so can the unspectacular, the quiet, the simple—sometimes even more so, for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. And that’s what it comes to: attentiveness.