Thursday, January 6, 2011

Cultivating Celebration: (Re)Orientation

Delight yourself in the LORD,
   and he will give you the desires of your heart.
-Psalm 37:4, ESV

Over the closing week of 2010 and the opening days of 2011, one word kept appearing all over my reading and listening: "delight."


My childhood was no stranger to delight.  My mother has always possessed a knack for celebrating the small victories in life.  So often she has written a note or provided some small surprise to mark a project completed, challenge met, difficult doctor's appointment done.  At least once a week over these last 6 months, she has called me to offer to bring me a treat while out on her own errands.  

My dad excels at little attentions that show me he values me and our time together.  When I worked for him in the summers during high school or studied near his  downtownoffice on school breaks, he would give me special consideration in the choice of lunch spot, focused conversation, and sometimes a little extra walking-around money.  

My grandmother's forte is creating special traditions, especially around holidays.  For the first two decades of my life, Christmas Eve at Nonni's was full of joyful, predictable ceremony, from the lunch and dinner menus to the hanging of the grandchildren's ornaments to the annual height check to the giving and receiving of savings bonds.

Somewhere in the last dozen or so years, though, I've started thinking like a grown-up.  The endless to-do list became the measure of my day's success, and acts of celebration seemed easy to prune from it.  They took energy and effort, and when I was the one creating those moments, they suddenly seemed frivolous.  It was all too easy to write them off as wastes of time, money, or calories.


As I've pondered how God might be calling me to respond to the current motif of delight, my thoughts have turned toward the spiritual discipline of celebration.  (Yes, that is considered a spiritual discipline, a holy habit of the heart; all three of the books we own concerning spiritual disciplines include it.)

As a Christian practice, celebration does not mean the pursuit of pleasure for its own sake or looking to the satisfaction of material desires as anodynes for the soul's ache.  This is not hedonism in the pagan sense but delight in the LORD.  Adele Calhoun's Spiritual Disciplines Handbook describes celebration as the overflow of the desire
to take joyful, passionate pleasure in God and the radically glorious nature of God's people, Word, world, and purpose (emphasis mine).
 Furthermore, she defines the practice this way:
engaging in actions that orient the spirit toward worship, praise, and thanksgiving. Delighting [there's that word again!] in all the attentions and never-changing presence if the Trinity fuels celebration (emphasis mine).
Thus, God Himself is the focus of our celebration.  In a world where sometimes it seems the only constant is change, we can celebrate His constancy and character.  In radical contrast to Christless attempts at joy, true celebration gazes not at self but at the Sovereign God of all that is, seen and unseen.

As I read the handbook's guidelines, my heart says, "Yes! I want to go there, be that.  Teach me how?"

For me, 2010 (or at least the second half of it) mostly trained me in endurance and trust, and I still have far to grow in both; the new year's circumstances are no different so far, but I can be, by God's grace. Daily, hourly, I am beginning to move toward celebration and delight, beginning to turn my face towards the joy of the Lord.  This means the prayerful consideration of what actions orient me toward worship, praise, and thanksgiving and the appreciation of His inconceivable delight in me.

For starters, making or listening to Christian music needs to become a daily part of my life again.  Silence and spoken-word audio have dominated, and I've gotten out of the habit of choosing music every day.  This has already changed and radically raised the reading on my joy meter.  Also, as I continue gratitude journaling, I'm seeking to celebrate (more than simple thanks) the markers of God's activity each day.  Participation in corporate worship when and where strength permits remains important, and I value it all the more after weeks last summer of inability to attend a church service.

Whether this is the tone of the whole year remains to be seen.  For the current season, it seems to be God's leading.  I welcome your prayers and fellowship in the journey towards cultivating a heart that habitually celebrates the Lord.  Kind reader, however He is leading you to grow in Christ this year, may He "fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by His power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him" (2 Thess. 1:11-12, ESV).

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