Blog readers: Chi Alpha @ Stanford is engaging in our annual summer reading project. As we read through an annotated translation of Pascal’s Pensees called Christianity For Modern Pagans, I’ll post the thoughts I’m emailing the students here (which will largely consist of excerpts I found insightful). They are all tagged summer-reading-project-2020. The reading schedule is online.
I hope this summer has been a blessing to you! Today we come to the final discipline — the discipline of celebration (which is an inversion of the book’s title, and this does not seem to be accidental).
Celebration as Foster describes it is a joy-filled approach to daily living that we share with others. He is not primarily referring to events like worship services or parties. He has in mind things like laughing with your friends in the cafeteria or turning chores into games. When we consistently and authentically live with joy, everything (including worship services and parties) get better. But when we do not live this way, even the spiritual disciplines we have been studying can become horrible things:
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. Every Discipline should be characterized by carefree gaiety and a sense of thanksgiving. Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, page 191
This is, no doubt, why Foster entitled his book Celebration of Discipline. The spiritual disciplines must themselves be both sources of joy and expressions of joy. This does not mean turn from fasting to feasting the moment we get hungry, or that when generosity is a challenge that we instead turn to greed. Of course the disciplines will be hard at times — that is why we call them disciplines!
But if our practice of the spiritual disciplines is nothing but duty without delight, we have badly missed the mark. In this regard the spiritual disciplines are no different than the physical disciplines — exercising is hard at times but people endure it because they enjoy what comes on the other side of the pain (and exercise itself is sometimes fun). And so our spiritual disciplines must be a celebration. But since the spiritual disciplines are woven into our everyday lives, they can only be marked by celebration if our everyday lives are marked by celebration.
Some people struggle to believe that God wants them to live this way. They have a hard time experiencing joy without guilt. Some pleasures, of course, are sinful. But there are people who are suspicious of even wholesome pleasures. If that’s you, I urge you to remember that enjoying life is not only pleasant but wise. Ecclesiastes makes this point repeatedly: “a person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil” (Ecc 2:24–25), “there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live” (Ecc 3:12–13), “there is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work” (Ecc 3:22), “when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil — this is a gift of God” (Ecc 5:18–20), “go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved of what you do” (Ecc 9:7–10), “you who are young be happy while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth… banish anxiety from your heart” (Ecc 11:9–10).
Perhaps, on the other hand, you do believe this but have a hard time putting it into practice. Maybe you even feel guilty that you don’t enjoy life more. Foster has good advice:
God has established a created order full of excellent and good things, and it follows naturally that as we give our attention to those things we will be happy. That is God’s appointed way to joy. If we think we will have joy only by praying and singing psalms, we will be disillusioned. But if we fill our lives with simple good things and constantly thank God for them, we will be joyful, that is, full of joy. And what about our problems? When we determine to dwell on the good and excellent things in life, we will be so full of those things that they will tend to swallow our problems. The decision to set the mind on the higher things of life an act of the will. That is why celebration is a Discipline. It is not something that falls on our heads. It is the result of a consciously chosen way of thinking and living.Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, page 195
If you struggle to live with joy, choose to fill your life with “simple good things” and thank God for them. Are you broke? Take walks in beautiful places. Watch funny videos online. Invite friends to come hang out at your place. Do you have some spare cash? Buy foods that you really enjoy eating. Buy the premium version of an app that you already like using. Purchase tickets to an event.
And always remember that the goal is to cultivate a truly joyful spirit. We’re not trying to live by hype; joy that lasts has a foundation. I appreciated Foster’s warning in this regard:
Often we try to pump up people 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 with the common ventures of life are redeemed. It is important to avoid the kind of celebrations that really celebrate nothing. Worse yet is to pretend to celebrate when the spirit of celebration is not in us. Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, page 193
And with that, I close. We’re officially done with the book, but I’ll send one more summary email next week. Thanks for reading along!
In the meanwhile, I have a question for you: which chapter did you find most helpful? Reply and let me know — I’ll share the results anonymously with everyone!