Welcome back! Welcome back to campus to those who are reentering for classes. Welcome back to some semblance of normalcy for those who may soon see loved ones again after a long year apart. Welcome back to feeling hopeful that we will see an end to this pandemic!

“It’s OK to Feel Joy Right Now” in The New York Times recently offered some pointers for regaining a sense of joy long-term (we’re pleased the article includes quotes from the Fish Interfaith Center’s Director of Contemplative Practices and Wellbeing, Jay Kumar). These pointers include knowing that when you’re not ok, it’s ok to admit it. Second, savor each occasion you possibly can. Third, allow yourself a sense of awe or “marveling.” You can be awe-filled by simply looking at the earth, creation, and trees as you take a walk, or awe-filled at the wonder of science that in record time afforded us the possibility of a vaccine for COVID-19. A sense of awe is central for those who are commemorating Passover or journeying through Holy Week this week.

I was starting to feel joy, to allow myself to feel hopeful that things would return to some form of normalcy soon. Then eight women were killed in salons across Atlanta. Six of the women fell into the dramatic increase in violence against anyone suspected of being of Asian descent this year. And just a week later, ten more human beings were brutally shot in a grocery store in Boulder. And I sadly realized that normalcy in our country also means mass shootings occur. What kind of normalcy is it when our schools, houses of worship, concerts, and now grocery stores and beauty salons have “mass shooter” protocols? It is maddening and heartbreaking. It is just wrong. All the while, targeted deaths by gun violence continue, as most recently and sadly in our own City of Orange, where three adults and a child died and two people were seriously injured.

I suggest we add one more pointer we can work together on toward regaining a sense of joy. And that is safety. The freedom to be safe from random shootings and gun violence. Safety from the coronavirus. Safety from discrimination spurred on by the power of words against one ethnic group. Safety from systematic discrimination based upon our race, ability, gender, sexuality, or religion.

It’s time for action. Many of us are weary of people sending “thoughts and prayers” who then do nothing to help change cycles of destruction. Benediction Sister Mary Kay Henry once said to me, “If you take prayer seriously, you will have to do the works of justice.” If you are a pray-er, take it seriously and follow your prayers with action. If you are a thinker, fire up think tanks with people of all persuasions to find solutions to the violence that seems to be part of our new normal in this country. Together, let’s truly create the possibility for joy.