Coming Home to Fullness of Life
The glory of God is the human person fully alive.
My wife, Grace, embodied for me what it means to be fully alive in joy, to say “yes” to life! Her favorite quote from Saint Irenaeus, “The Glory of God is the human person fully alive,” was her life’s mantra. She was passionate, mindful, committed, and deeply spiritual. She felt deeply and loved fully. She embraced fully the wounds in her own family history, which were many. Despite her wounds, she remained rooted in love and integrity, knowing who she was and knowing God was her source of strength, hope, and love. I am sure that you have people in your life who in one way or another have embodied this joyful spirit of being fully alive. I view such people as precious gifts, reflective of God’s active love in our lives, and they inspire us to grow in the fullness of that love.
In their book, Passion for Life: Lifelong Psychological and Spiritual Growth, authors Anne Brennan and Janice Brewi explore growth in generativity as essential for full life as they state, “Passion for life is passion for the fullness of life.” When I am able to truly see, touch, taste, smell, and hear what life unfolds before me, I am in the present moment. The precious present is about being real in the here and now, and being able to soak it in with all my bodily senses. This passion necessitates an integration of sexuality and spirituality. In their book Holy Eros, James and Evelyn Whitehead beautifully describe how “Eros is our desire for closeness, the visceral hope that moves us out of solitude and motivates us to chance the risky relationships of friendship and love.”
If we are created by love and for love, then joy and fullness of living comes in, embracing this love and passing it on. Love, in the best sense, is to desire the good for the other, as other. Our deepest joy is found in giving love to others in acts of service and compassion. I have come to believe that there is something deep in each human person that yearns for such life to the full. This is not a new concept but has been witnessed by many faithful guides through-out salvation history. This joy of living is about coming home to our deepest self and finding meaning and purpose for our life by seeking to live out that reality through the joys and sorrows of life.
The joy of living happens to be the theme of the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, a program of recovery that has benefit-ed myself and millions throughout the world. As Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham note in their book The Spirituality of Imperfection, this joy is being welcomed home like the parable of the Prodi-gal Son in the Scriptures. Kurtz and Ketcham note that “Being—at home involves, first coming home to ourselves—being able to accept our own imperfect humanness. This is the first and really the only coherent meaning of another concept: self-forgiveness.” This requires an openness or trust that allows us to let go of fears connecting with old ideas and beliefs that we can do this by ourselves.
What makes us most human and most spiritual is recognizing that we are all connected to one another and to the world around us. We are called to be contemplatives in action and as Saint Ignatius preached, “To find God in all things.” It is a whole life of seeking greater unity in love and uniting our will with that of the Creator. Julian of Norwich, the great Christian mystic, believes that our deepest spiritual affliction is our unwillingness to believe in the absolutely unmitigated goodness of God. For Julian of Norwich, the fundamental conviction is that joy is more basic to existence than pain.
Exploring this mystery of coming to joy, we can learn from so many wisdom figures of different faiths who have gone before us, and have marked the way:
When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.
Find ecstasy in life; the mere sense of living is joy enough.
When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.
Life has the potential to be amazing once we concentrate on deciphering all its wonderful subtleties, nuances, and details. If we pay attention, we can find joy and ecstasy in the most simple things or in the most usual experiences. One of the richest sources of joy is getting totally immersed in an activity and putting all our soul and talent into it. The joy of creating or accomplishing something can give us an incredible boost of power.
Joy Is a Shared Experience
To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with.
Mark Twain reminds us that joy is fundamentally a communal endeavor. Joy is one of those treasures that, paradoxically, multiplies whenever it is divided. When we share our joy, we don’t lose it, but actually witness it grow stronger and wider. That happens because, just like love, joy means connection and shared happiness.
Mystical experiences are encounters with the divine or transcendent and are not relegated to only a select few. Many of us have such experiences, whether we are aware of them or not. Vernon Howard, in The Mystic Path to Cosmic Power, distinguishes be-tween pseudo and authentic mysticism. Howard states, “Pseudo-mysticism seeks to evade reality; authentic mysticism wants to live it.” This is the road to joy! The message of mysticism for the psychospiritual journey of growth is that happiness is in the here and now by being fully present and receptive. Joyful living is a process of full engagement with life in the present moment—with all its joys, sorrows, and struggles, one day at a time.
Embracing our vulnerability and mortality invites us to live more fully in the present moment. I realized in my beloved wife’s passing that she lived life to the fullest and so my memories of her remind me of the precious gift of life and not to let my moments of life pass. Life became all the more sacred and more superficial desires, while still a distraction, are surprisingly less compelling to me. I find myself wanting to surround myself with those things that matter, that last, that like true love will never die.
Archbishop Tutu was asked to consider the nature of true joy and responded, “Ultimately our greatest joy is when we seek to do good for others. It’s how we are made. I mean we’re wired to be compassionate. We are wired to be caring for the other and gener-ous to one another. We shrivel when we are not able to interact.”
One of my clients who lives at a retirement home and has had MS (multiple sclerosis) most of her life gives me such inspiration. Although she has had to endure great pain and multiple hospitalizations through her chronic illness, she is nevertheless always ex-pressing gratitude and spends much of her time at her retirement home playing piano and teaching other residents to experience the joy of music and song. She once told me, “Kevin, I find great joy in seeing other residents smile and learn new songs.” She said that “lifting their spirits, lifts my spirits.” This is joy!
The first principle of discovering more authentic joy in living is to celebrate and taste and feel what is right in front of me. It is a matter of deep awareness, cultivating a sense of presence to what is most real and can’t be measured in dollars and cents. It is saying yes to my deepest self, my truest being, and letting go of ego. In their classic work, Presence: Human Purpose and the Field of the Future, Peter Senge, C. Otto Schwarmer, Joseph Jaworski, and Betty Sue Flowers report how they have come to believe that the key to developing deeper levels of living fully demands true presence. Presence is the core capacity for growth and emergence with the whole. As they explored presence, they found these shifts in awareness have been recognized in spiritual traditions around the world. As they state,
For example, in esoteric Christian traditions such shifts are associated with “grace” or “revelation” or the “Holy Spirit.” Taoist theory speaks of the “transformation of the vital energy (qing) into spiritual energy (shin).” This process involves an essential quieting of the mind that Buddhists call “cessation,” wherein the normal flow of thoughts ceases and the normal boundaries between self and world dissolve. In Hindu traditions, this shift is called “wholeness or oneness.” In the mystic traditions of Islam, such as Sufism, it is simply known as “opening of the heart.” Each tradition describes this a little differently, but all recognize it as being central to personal cultivation or maturation.
Having been a hospice chaplain for ten years, I walked with hundreds of patients and families from various religious and spiritual traditions as they were facing their last days. From this sacred work, I learned that most of what matters in life becomes clearer the less time we have. At the core is faith, family, and relationships of love and compassion. The deepest desires of one’s heart rise to the surface regardless of one’s spiritual or religious traditions.
Praise for The Road to Joy
“Dr. McClone has somehow been able to take the best that various spiritual practices and philosophies have to offer and weave them together with the uniting thread of psychology. The result is an informed and integrated approach to personal transformation. To be sure this is not another prosaic self-help book—not even close. The Road to Joy is qualitatively different. It is built on examples from diverse origins, informed from clinical experience, and contextualized in a concise tome that is as actionable as it is inspiring. I highly recommend it.”
—Chris E. Stout, Associate Professor of International Psychology, Chicago School of Professional Psychology
“Dr. McClone, not to be confused with McGlone, has given us an extraordinary and timely book. This should be required reading in these pandemic times. He beautifully integrates the research with storytelling and practical ways to be, know, and become JOY! It is and will be something one can read and re-read in prayer, meditation, or silence each day and discover another jewel.”
—Gerard J. McGlone, SJ, Senior Research Fellow, Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, Georgetown University
“Combining tender stories of the author’s own experiences with wisdom from both spiritual sages and contemporary scientists, McClone offers an abundance of clues to guide us on our lifelong journey to authentic happiness. He shows how even the unwanted realities of pain, failure, and grief may open the door to deeper life. In this book, we will recognize the voice of one who has ‘walked the walk’ of search, suffering, compassion, and care.”
—Mary Frohlich, RSCJ, Professor of Spirituality, Catholic Theological Union
“In The Road to Joy Kevin McClone, a seasoned psychologist, highlights in a warm, engaging style eight pathways to a fuller, more joyful life. Those confronting addictions in themselves or their families of origin will be especially interested in McClone’s example-filled discussions of honesty and integrity. We appreciated the ‘Action Plans’ at the end of each chapter and especially enjoyed chapters on vulnerability and one with the title of ‘Simplify, Simplify.’”
—James and Evelyn Whitehead, authors of Holy Eros: Pathways to a Passionate God
About the Author
Kevin P. McClone is a clinical psychologist, adjunct professor at Catholic Theological Union, certified chaplain, and addiction counselor who has worked for over twenty-five years in the healthcare field with more than ten years in palliative care. Kevin has been a keynote speaker both nationally and internationally on topics related to human sexuality, addiction recovery, building healthy relationships, emotional intelligence, and coping with loss and grief. Kevin has written numerous articles on topics related to psychospiritual growth for such varied publications as Horizon, Seminary Journal, Touchtone, and Human Development.