Baylor professor pens memoir about finding joy in midst of grief

Dr. Gorrell describes her new work as a "theological memoir." Photo courtesy of Dr. Angela Gorrell

By Mary Watson Vergnolle | Reporter

“The Gravity of Joyis the latest publication by Dr. Angela Williams Gorrell, an assistant professor of Practical Theology at Baylor. She describes the book as a “theological memoir” about the power of God-given joy that she found during a time in her life when she was “in the midst of profound grief.”

Gorrell said she has been writing since she was in second grade, and she always dreamed of creating a book. The topic of joy came upon her when offered a job to research and study joy at Yale University in the spring of 2016.

“I accepted the job with great enthusiasm and was so excited about it and read everything I could get my hands on about joy,” Gorrell said. “About eight months into the project, three of my family members died in four weeks. Each one of the deaths was tragic in its own way, and so I found myself in the fog of grief at Yale trying to write about joy in the midst of profound suffering.”

Gorrell’s personal experience related to finding joy in the midst of heartache and turmoil, something that she believes many people go through, especially now. Her inspiration continued to grow, and in May 2018, she said she began to recognize God’s calling for her life and the importance of ministry.

“In May of 2018, I became a chaplain at a women’s maximum-security prison. I was volunteering, and I realized a few weeks in that they put me with women who were on suicide watch,” Gorrell said. “It was like all of the sudden the opioid crisis and suicide rates were colliding in that room, and that was my experience [with my family].”

Gorrell describes the honesty imbedded within “The Gravity of Joy,” and how she encountered it when ministering and praying with women at the prison.

“Joy comes in spaces where people can be honest about who they are,” Gorrell said. “If you were angry, in pain or fear about the future you can say it. There was also no shame in that room. In places where there is no shame and we can live honestly and openly, there is room for joy.”

Great Falls, Va., sophomore Anna Grace Shephard said she is grateful for a book that discusses joy and comes from a Christian perspective. As a Christian herself, Shephard said she is continuously looking for ways to remain joyful in her relationship with God.

“I think that joy is being able to rejoice in things even when things aren’t going that great,” Shephard said. “I believe you can still have joy when going through struggles, and I think that it’s important to read about.”

Ultimately, Gorrell said she wrote the book to be a candid depiction of finding joy during times where it seems impossible. She said she hopes the book creates a space for honest conversations about life experiences, and it challenges others to seek joy from God in their own lives.

“Joy amid suffering feels timely for the moment we’re living in,” Gorrell said. “I think many people struggle to hear God’s voice in their own lives. One of the main things I hear from people after reading ‘The Gravity of Joy’ is that people feel permission to tell their story because I tell mine.”