Spiritual Disciplines: Celebration
by Marion van Driel
It seems rather odd to think of celebration as a discipline. Isn’t celebration a significant part of our human DNA? Workweek drudgery is softened by anticipation of weekend fun – a mentality not necessarily restricted to secular culture. In the Christian community, we too, often feel the need to ‘let our hair down’ – to change the trajectory of our everyday mundane (or incredibly hectic) activities. But partying as escapism from life’s humdrum, frenzy and sorrow bears no semblance to authentic, joyful celebration. As Christians, we have much to celebrate. And yet…
Increasingly, there seems little to rejoice over and celebrate. We carry enormous burdens for the sorrows of the world – in part because of our ability to instantly receive global news. Every day brings new disasters. Now, more than ever, we are bombarded with reasons to grieve. Additionally, our own circles of influence often erupt with real or potentially devastating events. It’s easy to get sucked into the vortex of doom and gloom. We need to be intentional about noticing places of joy. And so it’s no wonder that celebration is listed in the lineup of Spiritual Disciplines.
This month we celebrate Christmas. The news of Jesus’ birth began with ‘good news of great joy to all people’. Angels sang a joyful chorus. Jesus left the glory of heaven and travelled the humiliating route of the birth canal so that we could know boundless joy.
In his book, Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster notes that Jesus begins his ministry by proclaiming the Year of Jubilee (Luke 4:18,19), and that as Christ’s followers, we are called into a continual ‘Jubilee of the Spirit’ – liberating prisoners from their fears and from all kinds of addictions, bringing justice to the oppressed and sight to the blind, bringing good news to the poor. This kind of radical living, Foster contends, cannot help but generate authentic joy. God turns mourning into dancing and promises to provide what is needed as we walk through life in this outrageous manner. “Freedom from anxiety and care forms the basis for our celebration,” Foster writes, adding, “Celebration is central to all the Spiritual Disciplines. Without a joyful spirit of festivity the Disciplines become dull, death-breathing tools in the hands of modern Pharisees.” Foster compares joy to a motor, which keeps everything else going. It produces energy and makes us strong through adversity.
Trust, obedience, thanksgiving
Everyone wants joy, but how do we obtain it? How do we follow the command to ‘Rejoice in the Lord always’? We can no more will ourselves joyful than we can will ourselves to walk on water. A transformation is necessary – a transformation borne of obedience to Christ. Our wills, our very thoughts, when submitted to Christ over time, produce joy. Foster perceives that we try to come into joy far too soon. “Often we try to pump people up with joy when in reality nothing has happened in their lives. God has not broken into the routine experiences of their daily existence. Celebration comes when the common ventures of life are redeemed.”
I recall one late evening, standing at the grocery checkout with my buggy full of groceries. The store was ready to close, I was tired after a long day of work, and just wanted to be in bed. In my mind I was grumbling about what was still to come – the task of unpacking this cartful of food, and putting it all away before I could rest. Suddenly, in a flash of clarity, I wondered at my incredible selfishness – remembering that more than half the world’s population lack nourishment while I bemoan my task of shopping and filling our pantry with healthy, tasty food that will feed us for the next week or two. It was a moment of shame, redeemed by the Giver of Life as resentment morphed into thanksgiving.
To live in joy is to notice these seemingly insignificant moments. It is trusting in God to fulfill His promises, it is to obey His direction; it is to be thankful. Beyond that, Paul tells us to pay attention to everything that is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely and gracious (Phil. 4:8). We are called to fashion our thinking around these things, which is the essence of the Discipline of Celebration. We make conscious choices about how we will think about things, being transformed by a renewal of our minds (Rom. 12:2).
This is not to diminish the sorrows we carry. It is, instead, to recognize God’s presence in our sorrow. It is allowing Him (or others, through Him) to place salve on our painful wounds. It is being surprised by small glimpses of light in the darkness. It is anticipating a hopeful future.
Writer Ann Voskamp has gone through her own darkness. She questioned how to find joy in the dark places, and whether God is even present. In her first best seller, A Thousand Gifts, she invites readers to live their best life, as they record all the things they are and could be thankful for.
As a corporate discipline, there are many ways to practice celebration. As we become increasingly aware of God’s goodness, spontaneous childlike joy erupts. The Psalms gives examples – making music on all kinds of instruments, dancing, singing, shouting and lifting our hands in praise – as worship that pleases God.
Foster lists laughter as a way to celebrate – to enjoy wit, clever puns and wholesome jokes with one another. Often in a crowded room, usually at a celebration with family and friends, I hear the deep, hearty laugh that belongs to my husband. Just to hear it gives me joy and causes me to smile.
Foster also mentions childlike play – using our imaginations to be creative, and relishing the creativity of others. He suggests having informal music concerts, hosting art showings and dramatic productions, celebrating the gifts God has lavished on His image bearers.
Although we usually celebrate specific accomplishments or events, why not celebrate one another by sharing food, perhaps exploring other cultures, learning their folk dances, or hosting a family games night on a regular basis? We build each other up in joyful celebration, bonding with each other as we form lifelong memories!