Love Notes: “Oh, Happy Day”

One of my favorite movies came out in the early 1990s – Sister Act.  A Reno lounge singer named Deloris Van Carter (played by Whoopi Goldberg) witnesses her gangster boyfriend killing someone. She reports it to the police who put her in the witness protection program at a nunnery with a new identity of Sister Mary Clarence.  When she arrives at the convent, the nuns who live there – all formal, serene and white – are not so sure about her. In particular, the mother superior does not trust her and takes steps to limit her influence on the other nuns. It’s clear that the convent has a culture of control, power hoarding, excessive rules. While the movie is not about race or racism, the culture of the convent sounds like a white supremacy culture, doesn’t it?

One night, Mother Superior catches Sister Mary Clarence sneaking out (and recruiting other nuns to go with her), so she orders Sister to join the convent choir. Before long, Sister Mary Clarence transforms not just the choir, but the whole community. She disrupts the formal and uptight culture (think singing in Latin) with gospel music, clapping, dancing and smiling. Watch her in action here or by typing this into your web browser:

Sister Mary Clarence introduces joy.

The dictionary definition of joy is: a feeling of great pleasure and happiness; the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires;  a state of happiness or felicity; a source or cause of delight.  

Many of the characters in Sister Act become joyful, but I witness even more happening.  It is said that the opposite of joy is not sadness, but isolation and disconnection. And joy doesn’t just make us feel happy; it restores relationship. Nuns who have little connection to each other and a stilted relationship with God are transformed. They find connection with each other, and singing to and about their god brings them closer to it.

In the 1990s, I remember being exhausted from sleepless nights with little babies and long work hours. I remember plugging in my videocassette copy of Sister Act. Over and over again, I watched joy happen to the characters. Over and over again, I felt it happen in me. I sang along, clapped and even danced sometimes. I got the little babies bouncing in their seats to the rhythm. Their favorite song was Oh Happy Day. Indeed it is a happy day when we connect and restore relationship.

Much love to each of you,

Rev. Kelly


PS – Books that I mention in sermons can be found by clicking here.