Celebration: Understanding What It Is
Most days when I go to work, I realize how lucky I am. In fact, I resonate with the person who first understands that if you enjoy what you are doing, it does not feel like work. Most of why I like what I do is because it involves significant time with young adults---college students. It is an exciting time for so many of them as they are transitioning from being a child at home to a young adult testing out their independence and figuring out the kind of person they want to be.
It is a joy to be involved with so many of them as they engage some aspect of spirituality. Many of them sign up for a class with me, not so much because they want to focus on spirituality. Honestly, most of them take a class because it counts for some kind of requirement. In a sense they conclude I am the best of a bad thing! Or just as likely, they like the time of the day when the class is offered.
But that does not concern me. For decades now, I have seen my role in the form of ministry. Put theologically, I am trying to be a servant of the Spirit. It is an issue of obedience for me. My job---indeed, my life---is trying to incarnate the Spirit and allowing that Spirit to use me to “speak” to a younger generation. It is not about me. In many instances, my first job is to make something interesting when they did not really expect it to be interesting. Secondly, I hope they come to see spirituality to be relevant to their lives. If that happens, my obedience has borne some fruit.
Recently I had an experience that indicated some were bearing some fruit of the Spirit. I have been teaching a course on Spiritual Disciplines. On the surface, that does not sound exciting and appealing to the average college student. The word, discipline, is not usually a “turn on” for an eighteen year old! The adjective, spiritual, only makes it worse! But I am patient. Often it takes some time for them to open up and engage the topic and the process.
One of the topics at semester’s end is the theme of celebration. Rather than spend time trying to memorize what some author tells us celebration is, I asked the students as a group to come up with their own definition of celebration. I was very pleased with the result. In a relatively short period of time, they came up with a two-part definition, which I plan to incorporate into my own understanding of the term.
In a somewhat surprising move, the first half of the definition of celebration focuses on the communal aspect---the group. In an American culture driven by individualism, it was refreshing to see them grasp the communal aspect. Their definition said, “Celebration is a community of shared attitudes of appreciation and gratefulness.” I love the phrase, “a community of shared attitudes.” This describes very well the power of the people in a church, synagogue, temple or mosque.
It is key to see celebration having to do with attitudes of appreciation and gratefulness. Gratitude is a response to the joy of living. Celebration is recognizing this joy and appreciating it. If we can develop this attitude, we set ourselves at a full table of life and have so much to celebrate. The students discovered real insight with this half of the definition.
The other half of the definition moves from the communal to the individual. Without individuals, there never will be community. It is equally important to us to learn to celebrate ourselves. Again, the students offered insight. They say, “Celebration is opening oneself to the goodness of the world.” I find this definition so interesting, because it is not obvious to define celebration in this way.
Celebration as “opening” is a clever move. Celebration does open us. Or maybe it is the other way around: only if we open ourselves, can we come to celebrate. But it is more than mere openness. It is openness to the goodness of the world. There is a presupposition in this definition. The students were presupposing there is goodness in the world. I agree with them. That has been my experience.
However, it seems so many people are trained or habituated to see the bad in the world. This comes through pessimistic attitudes that depreciate and grumble at the world, instead of appreciate and be grateful. In order to celebrate we are going to have to see the good in the world. It is there; I simply need to stop, look, and listen. Goodness is not a train, but it comes nevertheless.
When I see this kind of work and wisdom among students, I realize they are not merely students. They, too, have become disciples of the Spirit. They too are in the process of incarnating the ever-present Spirit. To become spiritual is to live in, through and from this Spirit. If I can do that---if we can do that---there is cause for celebration everywhere and every day.