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The Gravity of Joy
A Story of Being Lost and Found
Angela Williams Gorrell
Foreword by Miroslav Volf

HARDCOVER; Published: 3/9/2021
ISBN: 978-0-8028-7794-9
Price: $ 21.99
252 Pages
Trim Size, in inches: 5.5 x 8.5
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“My vocation was supposed to be joy, and I was speaking at funerals.” 

Shortly after being hired by Yale University to study joy, Angela Gorrell got word that a close family member had died by suicide. Less than a month later, she lost her father to a fatal opioid addiction and her nephew, only twenty-two years old, to sudden cardiac arrest. The theoretical joy she was researching at Yale suddenly felt shallow and distant—completely unattainable in the fog of grief she now found herself in. 

But joy was closer at hand than it seemed. As she began volunteering at a women’s maximum-security prison, she met people who suffered extensively yet still showed a tremendous capacity for joy. Talking with these women, many of whom had struggled with addiction and suicidal thoughts themselves, she realized: “Joy doesn’t obliterate grief. . . . Instead, joy has a mysterious capacity to be felt alongside sorrow and even—sometimes most especially—in the midst of suffering.” 

This is the story of Angela’s discovery of an authentic, grounded Christian joy. But even more, it is an invitation for others to seize upon this more resilient joy as a counteragent to the twenty-first-century epidemics of despair, addiction, and suicide—a call to action for communities that yearn to find joy and are willing to “walk together through the shadows” to find it.

Table of Contents

Foreword by Miroslav Volf
1. Sheer Silence
2. Hooked
3. Too Late
4. Unleashed
5. Helpful Help
6. The Search
7. Bright Sorrow
8. Stories to Tell
9. Joy

Publishers Weekly
“Gorrell’s therapeutic message provides a healing balm that will resonate with any Christian.”
Booklist (starred review) 
“You don't have to be a Christian to relate your own experiences with grief and the search for joy to those Gorrell beautifully shares in these pages.”
“Angela Gorrell was part of a Yale Divinity School project on ‘a theology of joy’ when three members of her family died within four weeks, all in tragic situations. Drowning in an ocean of sorrow, she wondered if joy could keep her afloat. This remarkable book is her honest, vulnerable, and healing answer to that question. There is no spiritual cheerleading here, no cheap grace. Instead, there is the hard-won knowledge that, while we cannot make joy, we can open ourselves to the God who suffers with us, offering us witness and ‘withness.’ The night is long, but if we keep on opening and offering ourselves through our tears, joy will come in the morning.”
— Parker J. Palmer
author of On the Brink of Everything, A Hidden Wholeness, and Let Your Life Speak
“What is the true life? That is the big question that animates this book. Angela Gorrell teaches us that in a well-lived life emotions are felt authentically, choices are embraced meaningfully, and self-transcending connections are forged broadly. These pages crackle with raw honesty, deep wisdom, profound realizations, and potent reminders that ultimately goodness can be found amidst the rancor of daily life. The author’s insights contained within are not ivory tower speculations, either. They were formed and forged through the crucible of living. Suffering is inevitable and inescapable but does not have to have the final say in our lives. Joy is a gift and ‘will always find us,’ writes Gorrell. You will find joy in these pages—may we all be grateful for this deeply moving gift she has given us.”
— Robert Emmons
author of The Psychology of Ultimate Concerns and The Little Book of Gratitude
The Gravity of Joy is a story of hope in hard times. Angela Gorrell artfully tells her story of faith, pain, and joy. She weaves it with the stories of others—family, women she met in prison Bible study, students, travelers she met on her journey. And she shares a truth that perhaps is discovered only by those who have faced love and loss—especially those society has used and abused, denied dignity to in life and death: that joy comes in the mourning. I encourage all who hunger for justice, peace, acceptance, and comfort to read this book. In its pages you will find beautiful prose and hope that even in the darkest of spaces, places, and times—through addiction, suicide, sudden death, prison, abuse, and despair—love reigns, truth reigns, joy reigns.”
— Liz Theoharis
co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A Call for National Revival
The Gravity of Joy is a unique exercise in vulnerable theology. Weaving memoir and journalism, theology and testimony, Gorrell invites us into the unthinkable to discover the possibility of a joy that surpasses understanding. Written with eyes wide open, this book is a reminder that the cracks in a broken heart can be openings for grace.”
— James K. A. Smith
author of You Are What You Love and On the Road with Saint Augustine
“In The Gravity of Joy Angela Gorrell courageously narrates her personal experience of clawing her way through the valley of the shadow of death and despair, yearning for hope yet questioning whether joy can possibly exist in a world where suicide and opioid addiction steal lives away. When she begins to lead a Bible study with incarcerated women, she finds unexpected balm for her own despair, leading her to affirm: ‘By grappling with suffering we actually come to a clearer understanding of joy. . . . God’s primary response to suffering is withness and witness—the visible manifestation of God’s presence in the midst of suffering.’”
— Joyce Ann Mercer
Horace Bushnell Professor of Christian Nurture at Yale Divinity School
“A searingly honest, devastatingly painful, profoundly wise—and beautiful—book. Once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down. Angela Gorrell is a scholar with the courage of the most authentic memoirist. She generously and unflinchingly brings the theological discussion of the most sublime subject—joy—right into the middle of the mess of life and lets it unfold in surprising and wondrously disrupting ways.”
— Tod Bolsinger
author of Tempered Resilience: How Leaders Are Formed in the Crucible of Change
“Angela has a gift for clearly articulating deep, complicated emotions in a way that few writers can. I admire both her gut-level honesty and her thorough reflection. Her poignant storytelling gives readers permission to embrace the messiness of life and reinvigorates our hope in God’s presence through it all.”
— Linda Livingstone
president of Baylor University
“Angela Gorrell’s moving personal experiences and stories in The Gravity of Joy arise amidst the ordinary, exceptional, and anguishing realities of being human. She is a vulnerable and honest guide, who knows her own and others’ tear-stained cheeks, as she and others receive joy with wonder, not triumph; with humility, not presumption; with presence, not power. This book is a witness to hope that can and does save lives.”
— Mark Labberton
president of Fuller Theological Seminary
“For Angela this book is not about Angela, though stories of her experiences figure very prominently in it. It is about the great power of that rather ephemeral but irresistible emotion called joy, an emotion that we cannot manufacture but that we can prepare for and open ourselves toward. . . . That joy, Christ’s joy, is ‘an incredibly powerful counteragent to despair—and even a companion during suffering.’ In a way—a difficult, challenging way—each of the stories of addiction, despair, depression, and death Angela here tells is an invitation to that kind of joy.”
— Miroslav Volf
from the foreword
Reviews in Religion & Theology
The Gravity of Joy is devastatingly painful, profoundly wise, beautifully written, and enjoyable to read. It teaches us how to overcome the painful experiences we encounter in our lives. Most important, we need to put our trust in God. Placing our faith in God will help us continue our journey peacefully.”