- Celebration—a joyful spirit of festivity central to all the disciplines that flows from a life of obedience to God.
“There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
…a time to weep
and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn
and a time to dance.”
You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
LORD, my God, I will praise you forever.
“Sometimes people ask me, “Aren’t you lonely out there with just desert around you?”
I guess they mean the beargrass and the yuccas and the cactus and the rocks. I guess they mean the deep ravines and the hawk nests in the cliffs and the coyote trails that wind across the hills.
I can’t help laughing when they ask me that. I always look at them…Surprised.
And say, “How could I be lonely? I’m the one In charge of Celebrations.”
Those are the opening lines of Byrd Baylor’s children’s book I’mIn Charge of Celebrations. The young narrator goes on to detail what it is she celebrates in that stark landscape. She honors Dust Devil Day that commemorates the day she witnessed five whirlwinds dance across the horizon. She celebrates The Time of the Falling Stars, that week in August when the night sky goes wild with meteor showers, and Coyote Day, Green Cloud Day, Rainbow Celebration Day, all surprise moments of beauty and grace. Because she noticed them, received them as wondrous gifts, those moments became sacred, laden with gratitude and an outpouring of celebration.
As we live out our lives of devotion to God, celebration underscores everything we do. As we practice the disciplines we position ourselves to receive guidance and formation from God. Our love for Christ deepens. We desire to follow more closely. We yearn to be near the heart of the Father. In this place we experience the JOY that comes from a life lived in harmony with the will of God. We notice the Spirit’s work, we are strengthened and we can’t help but celebrate.
In our fast-paced world, however, sometimes celebration is passed over in exchange for expediency. We like to move on to the “next thing” rather than stopping to notice the goodness of God, the gifts we have been given, the incredible privilege it is that we can be in relationship with the God of the universe. Celebration causes us to stop our work and savor. It asks us to notice and stand in awe.
God commanded the Hebrew people to come together at appointed times to remember and celebrate His goodness and provision. Those were times of wonderful enjoyment. There were special foods and drink, powerful symbols and solemn ritual, music, singing, dancing, shouting and festive pleasure. Their gatherings were grounded in worship, a communal reminiscence of their history and a gratitude to God for what he had done for them.
These Holy Days interrupted their ordinary time, giving their lives a healthy rhythm of work and rest. It caused them to remember who they were as a people, what God had done for them and to what he called them. The obedient observance filled them with joy and gave them strength.
Dallas Willard says: We engage in celebration when we enjoy ourselves, our life, our world, in conjunction with our faith and confidence in God’s greatness, beauty and goodness. We concentrate on our life and world as God’s work and as God’s gift to us.
Like the Hebrew People, we are not called to empty hedonistic revelry, but as God’s own people we are invited to embrace our lives with a sense of celebration and wonder, to be grateful to a generous God who has given us life and who enters into our daily experience. As we notice those gifts and remember his goodness we are lightened and find a sense of well-being and wholeness that should be characteristic of the Christian community. To a degree we ARE in charge of celebrations. The practice of celebration is a discipline of a joyful Christian life. What a beautiful invitation!
Ideas for Practicing the spiritual discipline of Celebration
- End each day with a time of gratitude. Think back over the day and give thanks for moments of awareness, for acts of kindness and love, for glimpses of beauty, for brushes with the Divine, for moments you recognized God’s presence. You will find that as this practice becomes a discipline, you will cultivate an awareness for things to celebrate. Consider keeping a Celebration Journal and watch how wonder increases and reasons to give thanks multiply.
- Meditate on scripture that expresses joy and acts of celebration and gratitude. You will find a starter list below.
- Celebrate well the holidays of our culture. Be thoughtful about how you would like to celebrate Christmas and Easter. Plan ahead the types of activities that would make your observance meaningful and festive. Invite those who would otherwise be alone to join you in your celebrations. Read books like To Dance with God and All Through the Day, All Through the Year to get some new ideas that will help you weave your faith and prayer into the celebrations.
- Be on the lookout for lots of other reasons to celebrate: birthdays, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, rites of passage, completion of tasks, anniversaries, changing seasons, church birthdays, annual meeting of the congregation. Find simple ways to celebrate and add joy to the occasions.
- The early church knew the importance of rhythms of rest and rejoicing, ordinary and holy, preparation and celebration, self denial and feasting. Over centuries a calendar was developed that gave a lovely cadence to the daily lives of the people of God. The two main feast days of Christmas and Easter are both preceded by a time of preparation: Advent and Lent. Find a new way to enter into these preparatory seasons. You might consider lighting an Advent wreath at mealtime or baking cookies for elderly neighbors. Volunteering to help people who are less fortunate during Lent might be the kind of preparation that will make Easter a deeply joyous celebration.
- There are many other days of remembrance and feasting throughout the year that often go unnoticed. Consider choosing a lesser feast day to celebrate and turn toward God in Thanksgiving and joy.
- Choose to celebrate everything and invite others to join you. Celebrate a sunny day in the midst of a season of gloom. Celebrate snow angels, girl scout cookies and an “A” on a math test. Celebrate the taste of a new cuisine, the completion of a long book, an act of kindness, an act of courage. Have a party for the last day of school, the first dafodil of Spring, the discovery of a new talent or interest, a clean bill of health, the completion of chemotherapy, the engagement of a couple to be married.
- Make big deals of Firsts: first lost tooth, learning to spell your name, learning to read, finishing the first long book, memorizing the times table or the periodic table, first day of school, first band concert, first day walking to school, first friend, first time riding a bike or swimming the length of the pool, making the team, getting a driver’s license, going on a date, first time working at a soup kitchen. Celebrate them, give thanks to God for his goodness, ask his blessing and presence as life continues.
- Celebrate creativity. Go to concerts and museums and bask in the beauty of creative work. Support local and young artists. Stop to look at the artwork in the hallways of schools. Do some art, play some music of your own. Enjoy the God-given ability to create and appreciate beauty. Have a Family Arts Night with each member of the family preparing a work of art to unveil or a piece of music to perform. Take pictures, have refreshments, revel and celebrate.
- Be the joyful people of God everywhere you go. It will change the world.
Scripture for further study of the Discipline of Celebration
2 Samuel 6: 12-23—David celebrating before the Ark of the LORD
Leviticus 23—the appointed festivals of the LORD
Psalm 148-150—Psalms of celebration and gratitude
Exodus 15—Song of Moses and Miriam celebrating God’s provision
Deuteronomy 14: 26-27—a mandate to celebrate and enjoy the gifts of God
Judges 4, 5—Story and song of Deborah
Isaiah 55—Invitation to those who thirst
John 2: 1-12—Jesus turns water into wine
Philippians 4: 4-7—Rejoice in the Lord always
Philippians—Rejoicing in the midst of suffering
Resources for digging deeper
Batchelder, David B. All Through the Day, All Through the Year: Family Prayers and Celebrations. Augsburg Fortress: Minneapolis, 2000.
Farrington, Debra K. Living Faith Day by Day: How the Sacred Rules of Monastic Tradtions Can Help You Live Spiritually in the Modern World. Berkley Publishing Group: New York, 2000, chapter 3.
Foster, Richard J. Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth. Harper Colins: San Franscisco, 1978, chapter 13.
Ortberg, John. The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 1997, chapter 4.
Willard, Dallas. The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives. Harper Collins: San Fransisco, 1988, pp. 179-181.