Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Spiritual Disciplines- Celebration

Today we will be looking at the Spiritual Discipline of Celebration, which is appropriate for Thanksgiving weekend. As a Christian discipline, Celebration creates the context for receiving the grace of joy that comes to us as a result of our faith and confidence in God.

It is sad that Christians are not often thought of as joyous people. And sometimes it’s a true accusation that some Christians aren’t very joyous. 
We can sometimes take ourselves too seriously. Sometimes in our desire to lead pure lives we run the risk of noticing every act that falls bellow the standard. We notice it in ourselves and we are plagued by guilt. Or we notice it in society and we are plagued by judgment. ... Sometimes we are so focused on issues of justice or the suffering of others, at home or abroad, that we feel like we don’t have any right to celebrate. How dare we? Sometimes in our teachings we can become obsessed with a sin-focus Gospel. We become all about not sinning, and turning to Christ to forgive us for our sins. These are important things, but they are not the only things. Surely there is a problem if our focus on sin drowns out the goodness and beauty of God. Or, sometimes we have seen less than wholesome examples of celebration and we worry that we will be drawn into drunkenness, lust, and all kinds of other temptations as a result of celebrating.  All of this means that, unfortunately, Christians are not always known as joyous people. 

It shouldn’t be this way though. St. Augustine taught that 

“the Christian should be an alleluia from head to foot!”.
 In the Old Testament, the people are commanded to gather together to celebrate certain feasts. And these weren’t two hour dinner parties, these were week long massive parties. (see here and here) … In John 15 Jesus said, 
“These things I have spoken to you that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).
 Jesus was accused of being a glutton and a drunk (Luke 7:34). His first miracle in the gospel of John was turning water into wine so that a wedding party could continue on (John 2). Paul says that evidence of God’s spirit dwelling in you is a character marked by joy (see the Fruit of the Spirit- Gal 5:22). The Eastern Orthodox Theologian Alexander Schmemann said, 
“… from its very beginning Christianity has been the proclamation of Joy… all-embracing joy”. 
“Of all accusations against Christians, the most terrible one was uttered by Nietzsche when he said that Christians had no joy”.
  From the beginning Christians were living a life where joy was more real than any suffering they were enduring. THink about the martyrs that faced their executions with courage. They could do that because they knew that the lion in front of them was temporary but the joy God has for them is eternal (E.G. Perpetua here, and Rom 8:18).  Suffering is temporary to the Christian. Joy is eternal.

Even though Joy and celebration are deeply embedded in our Scriptures, Christians aren’t always known for celebration, but, to be fair, the truth is that a lot of modern western society has forgotten how to celebrate. Writing in 1969 the theologian Harvey Cox said that modern people have been pressed 

“so hard toward useful work and rational calculation [they have] all but forgotten the joy of ecstatic celebration…”.
 We might have an efficient society, but we have a tendency to value work above all, and without celebration and times of joy our work can lose all meaning and motivation. We live in a society filled with anxiety and this is the enemy of celebration (Phil 4:6,7, Matt 6:25). 

According to Richard Foster, and many other Christian teachers, only one thing produces genuine joy- that is obedience. A life lived open to God, especially when dealing with life’s difficulties, leads to the possibility that misery can be transformed. God doesn’t just want to transform our miseries though, God wants to transform and sanctify our ordinary lives. As we offer our daily lives to God in obedience, God will use our lives to produce profound joy. In fact, Foster says that “Joy is the end result of the Spiritual Disciplines’ functioning in our lives”.

So how do we practice Celebration as a spiritual discipline? Perhaps we can follow St. Paul’s advice when he calls us to choose to think certain thoughts. He tells us to set our minds on what is true, honourable, just, pure, lovely, and gracious (Phil 4:8). These things point to the goodness of creation. As we turn to God in thanksgiving for the goodness of creation we shape our minds and become who human beings were meant to be. The theologian Alexander Schmemann said, 

“When man stands before the throne of God when he has fulfilled all that God has given him to fulfill, when all sins are forgiven, all joy restored, then there is nothing else for him to do but to give thanks. Eucharist (thanksgiving) is the state of perfect man. … Eucharist is the only full and real response of man to God’s creation, redemption and gift of heaven.”
 The word “Eucharisto” means “thanks” in Greek. If we cultivate a thankful spirit by focusing on the goodness all around us, joy will be a result.

This has even been shown by those researching in the field of Positive Psychology. (Positive Psychology focuses on having a healthy mind, rather than on just dealing with psychological problems.) They have 

“shown that people who are habitually grateful are happier than those who are habitually ungrateful; they are less depressed, more satisfied with their lives, have more self-acceptance and have a greater sense of purpose in life. They are also more generous.” (See Rupert Sheldrakes, “Science and Spiritual Practices”, chapter 2). 
So, a big part of celebration is focusing on gratitude for all that God has given. If you find it hard to find something to be thankful for try holding your breath for a minute or two and then thank God for oxygen and working lungs. You might want to make it a daily or weekly practice to "count your blessings". You can use a journal, or just do it in your mind, but list things you are grateful for. They don’t have to be big and profound. They can be small and simple- like the smell of newly mowed grass, or birds at the bird feeder. (see the Book of Awesome)

 Saying grace before meals, even if short, helps us be thankful for what God has provided.

Most of us have become uncomfortable with singing, and dancing, but all over the world these are the natural ways of celebrating. Most of us might have to rediscover these. These come natural to children, maybe they can teach us. Put on some music and dance by yourself. Gather around a piano or guitar and sing. Dare to learn a few folk dances, or some silly games.

Enjoy the art of clean comedy. Laugh, poke fun at yourself. Enjoy good comedy that doesn’t require crassness to be funny. (see reverend fun)

Image result for the best reverend fun cartoons

Image result for the best reverend fun cartoons

Image result for best reverendfun

Image result for best reverendfun

Enjoy the fruits of creativity- your own or someone else’s. Enjoy fantasy, imagination- art, music, story, and drama. Watch movies or go to plays. Read books out loud together. 

Find ways to celebrate with your family, friends, and community. Find reasons to gather like, birthdays, marriages, anniversaries, a new job, or reaching a goal. (We have friends who had people over nearly every Sunday. It was a potluck, so everyone brought something and they would add card tables to make a giant long table. There was always a lot of laughter around that table.) Celebrate Christmas, and Easter as spiritual disciplines. They can be rescued from the clutches of commercialism. And when you find yourself sighing, "I guess I better clean the house", remind yourself that this is a spiritual discipline. It does something for your soul and the souls of those who come. Redeem All-Hallows-Eve (Halloween) as a celebration of the victory of the saints over the powers of darkness through the power of Christ. Find or make up reasons to celebrate and laugh together.

Celebration puts us in the place to receive the grace of joy. Our call to joy is a call to believe that God’s goodness will overcome the pain of the world. Resurrection will overcome the cross. The Kingdom of God will overtake the Empire of Darkness.  The prophets talk about a time when God’s justice will overtake the suffering and evil in the world. For God’s people to celebrate in a world full of pain is a protest against the darkness. It is a declaration that God will overcome, and evil will not have the last word. We celebrate to express our faith that God is good and created a good world, and in the end joy is eternal and suffering is not. So we need more practice in joy than we do in suffering. AMEN    

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