Maria Oswalt / Unsplash

“Inciting Joy” (2022) is a beautifully written book by Ross Gay. The provocative way Gay frames joy challenges the assumption that joy is something frivolous or only available to those with privilege. Gay’s soulful stories remind us that joy is not separate from suffering or sorrow. In fact, joy could be what happens when we care for one another through suffering and sorrow.

Lent might seem like a strange time to bring up the topic of joy, but congregational leaders don’t always give themselves enough space for joy. We live in a world shaped by “should,” “ought” and “need.” We need to finish the sermon. We ought to attend an event because people expect us to be there. We should be doing more because if we don’t, people might not think we work hard enough. Does this sound familiar to anyone?

Gay is curious about the practices that make joy more available to us: that is, those practices, habits, rituals and understandings that “prepare the ground for joy.” The book also aims to answer a second question: “What does joy incite?”

What if, as Gay suggests, the solidarity that joy incites, which is interwoven with our common sorrow, is what helps us survive? What if, as leaders of faith communities, we began to see that part of our calling is to incite joy among the people we lead? While we strive for excellence, accountability and stewardship, perhaps we should also evaluate how frequently and to what extent we incite joy. When our people are grieving, being attentive to their needs is a way to incite joy. When material needs arise, sharing generously out of God’s abundance incites joy. What will you do during the Lenten season to prepare the ground for joy?


Excerpt: “Delighted: What Teenagers Are Teaching The Church About Joy”

By Kenda Creasy Dean, Wesley W. Ellis, Justin Forbes and Abigail Visco Rusert

Before you go…

I confess that I once would have told you that joy is frivolous. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy having a good time, but somehow the idea of inciting joy feels more whimsical than just setting out to have a good time. What I appreciate about the joy described in “Inciting Joy” is the invitation it offers us to go deeper in our relationships with others, with ourselves and with creation.

Let’s remind our folks during this season that the joy they hunger for will not be found by chasing after whatever the commercials tell us we don’t have and desperately need. Then do something to incite joy in the congregation and see what happens next. “Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” (Psalm 32:11)

You can always reach me and the Alban Weekly team at Until next week, keep leading!

Prince Rivers

Editor, Alban at Duke Divinity

Partner Resource

All preachers, including active clergy, seminarians, lay preachers and retired clergy are invited to participate in a research survey being conducted by the Rev. Dr. Leah Schade, Associate Professor of Preaching and Worship at Lexington Theological Seminary. This is part of a six-year-long project begun in 2017 that informed her book, “Preaching in the Purple Zone: Ministry in the Red-Blue Divide” (Alban/Rowman & Littlefield, 2019). She is especially hoping for clergy who are Black, Indigenous, Latinx and Asian to respond to the survey, since these groups are historically underrepresented in research.

Your responses will help further research about preaching and ministry at this unique time in American history regarding topics such as racism, environment, immigration, abortion, guns and LGBTQIA issues. This survey is anonymous and estimated completion time is 11-16 minutes.  The survey is open through March 17. You are also encouraged to share this with other preachers in your network. Respondents who complete the survey can enter a drawing to win either five copies of Dr. Schade’s Lenten devotional, ‘For the Beauty of the Earth,’ or one copy of ‘Preaching in the Purple Zone’ (your choice).

Here is the survey link.

Any questions can be directed to Dr. Schade at

More on this topic

Get away to move forward

What if getting away is essen...