Sunday with Ron Rolheiser
The Gospel Challenge to Enjoy Our Lives
Joy is an infallible indication of God’s presence, just as the cross is an infallible indication of Christian discipleship. What a paradox! And Jesus is to blame.
When we look at the Gospels we see that Jesus shocked his contemporaries in seemingly opposite ways. On the one hand, they saw in him a capacity to renounce the things of this world and give up his life in love and self-sacrifice in a way that seemed to them almost inhuman and not something that a normal, full-blooded person should be expected to do. Moreover he challenged them to do the same: Take up your cross daily! If you seek your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life, you will find it.
On the other hand, perhaps more surprisingly since we tend to identify serious religion with self-sacrifice, Jesus challenged his contemporaries to more fully enjoy their lives, their health, their youth, their relationships, their meals, their wine drinking, and all the ordinary and deep pleasures of life. In fact he scandalized them with his own capacity to enjoy pleasure.
We see, for example, a famous incident in the Gospels of a woman anointing Jesus’ feet at a banquet. All four Gospel accounts of this emphasize a certain raw character to the event that disturbs any easy religious propriety. The woman breaks an expensive jar of very costly perfume on his feet, lets the aroma permeate the whole room, lets her tears fall on his feet, and then dries them with her hair. All that lavishness, extravagance, intimation of sexuality, and raw human affection is understandably unsettling for most everyone in the room, except for Jesus. He’s drinking it in, unapologetically, without dis-ease, without any guilt or neurosis: Leave her alone, he says, she has just anointed me for my impending death. In essence, Jesus is saying: When I come to die, I will be more ready because tonight, in receiving this lavish affection, I’m truly alive and hence more ready to die.
In essence, this is the lesson for us: Don’t feel guilty about enjoying life’s pleasures. The best way to thank a gift-giver is to thoroughly enjoy the gift. We are not put on this earth primarily as a test, to renounce the good things of creation so as to win joy in the life hereafter. Like any loving parent, God wants his children to flourish in their lives, to make the sacrifices necessary to be responsible and altruistic, but not to see those sacrifices themselves as the real reason for being given life.
…This challenge, I believe, has not been sufficiently preached from our pulpits, taught in our churches, or had a proper place in our spirituality. When have you last heard a homily or sermon challenging you, on the basis of the Gospels, to enjoy your life more? When have you last heard a preacher asking, in Jesus name: Are you enjoying your health, your youth, your life, your meals, your wine drinking, sufficiently?
Granted that this challenge, which seems to go against the conventional spiritual grain, can sound like an invitation to hedonism, mindless pleasure, excessive personal comfort, and a spiritual flabbiness that can be the antithesis of the Christian message at whose center lies the cross and self-renunciation. Admittedly there’s that risk, but the opposite danger also looms, namely, a bitter, unhealthily stoic life. If the challenge to enjoy life is done wrongly, without the necessary accompanying asceticism and self-renunciation, it carries those dangers; but, as we see from the life of Jesus, self-renunciation and the capacity to thoroughly enjoy the gift of life, love, and creation are integrally connected. They depend on each other.
26 thoughts on “Sunday with Ron Rolheiser: The Gospel Challenge to Enjoy Our Lives”
Yes, it would be wonderful of more preachers were able to understand that limitation of their sermons, and then to communicate it to people in the pews.
Let it be known that, in order to maximize joy, I cheat wherever and whenever necessary.
Headless U Guy, like your thought about best way to thank a gift giver is to enjoy gift. I find this so true. Nothing makes me happier, gives me joy than when I give my little granddaughter a “gift” or take her somewhere special. Like all kids she hides no emotion and is honest, she enjoys the “gift” and shows it, my joy is greater than hers. Of course she is learning to say the formal thank you as part of good manners but she has thanked me with her joy.
The paved sections were hell.
Rolheiser & CM are trying to “restore balance to the Force” against an idea that Asceticism and Denial are More Spiritual. Like the Medieval idea about “Mortification of the Flesh” for Spiritual Gain — as in St Rose of Lima gargling lye to “mortify” her voice (afterwards she never spoke above a whispering croak) and clawing her face until it was a mass of scar tissue to “morfify” her original beauty, all for Spiritual Gain. (She died young from all the abuse of her body and health.)
A less pathological form than St Rose is that a Christian should NEVER EVER take enjoyment from anything other than Prayer and Devotion (which in this context means Bible Study, not Novenas and Rosaries). That a Christian is not allowed to do anything they are talented for or enjoy; only what they are miserable with and incompetent in to show they’re not “relying on the Flesh”. (op cit Christian Monist)
Judaism (which was supposed to be Christianity’s parent) had a strong emphasis on just living your life.
“The drab, grey, hard, joyless path of Salvation.”
— James Michener, Hawaii, introducing the Puritan missionaries to “Owhyhee”
You turned my mourning into dancing; You peeled off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
“But ask the animals, and they will teach you,
or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;
8 or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,
or let the fish in the sea inform you.
9 Which of all these does not know
that the hand of the Lord has done this?” (Job, chapter 12)
Got my two Sunday crossword puzzles here, too, and sudoku saved for later.
I think those of you who are critiquing this article because physical ailments and aging take the joy out of living–“so don’t you dare make me feel guilty about not being overly joyous these days”–are missing the point.
One of the reasons I think people flocked to Jesus was because his message was one of freedom (along with enjoyment), tapping back into the Jewish traditions of celebration, which ran counter to the Pharisitical approach of the day made religion all about the law and appearances.
To paraphrase how the crowds who followed him might’ve thought…
“Let’ see, would I rather follow this guy who thinks it’s okay to eat and drink with sinners and heal people on the Sabbath, or the uppity-ups who take the fun out of living?”
To me, this article and this philosophy are all about that. It highlight what Jesus allows for and gives us the freedom for: joyous and celebratory religion instead of stuck-up, burdensome religion.
Sunshine. Time to drive out to the corn stand in the country and load up! With a side trip to the Mennonite dairy for an ice cream cone made from their own ice cream (so good)
Time to stretch out and move around. Time to sit on the grass and play with the puppy. And to gather some lillies and roses from the garden and to drive down to the Church yard and leave them for a loved one. And sit for a while and take it all in. And take it all in.
‘in joyful hope”
Some parts of life aren’t possible to enjoy. Watching your wife’s health decline, along with your own, is one of those parts. For the rest, Teddy Roosevelt is credited with some good advice: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” Enjoy your life when you can, and try to survive the rest.
You are not alone: nobody is “in command” of life. Life tosses monkey wrenches into the works all the time. Anybody who thinks they have life under control is either deluded or lying to you. It’s not failure to be unhappy with the parts of life that are broken and you can’t fix. It’s normal. You don’t have to be one of those happy, clappy people who think that loving God means being happy all the time. Be happy when you can; look for reasons in your life to be grateful; do some things that you enjoy. That’s enough.
As is often the case, Rolheiser’s “challenge” is one facet of a many-faceted perspective on life. I’m sure at some point Ron has encouraged people to lament as a part of their gospel response as well. Rarely do we experience life as completely monochromatic. One of the most challenging things for any preacher or teacher to understand and practice is to help people understand that their message for the day simply may not be for everyone on that particular day.
I’ve been on my arse for about 4 hours doing sudoku and crossword puzzles. I have the Tour de France recorded and will watch that today. I’ll play my guitar and drink a little wine later. My wife loves me and not too many people hate me. A great Sunday! Not much else needed. Voila! At the same time I’m surrounded by pain, my own and that of others. The mystery is embracing both. Sometimes one is more front and center than the other but forgetting either is an imbalance that leads to either a cold hearted, callous and empty ‘joy’ or a dark, bland outlook that seeks and sees the dourness in everything. Both need embracing to be meaningful.
I think this ties in with our understanding of how discipleship works. Especially in the evangelical world, we often talk as if the Christian life is a heroic struggle to continuously make the right choices, and as if obedience to God is something *we* accomplish through strength of character and self-denial.
There are certainly times when we have to choose to do something hard because it’s right. But Christian discipleship is about allowing God to transform the very core of who we are to make us into the sort of people who naturally *want* to do what’s right, rather than people who have to constantly grit our teeth and *force* ourselves to do the right thing out of fear or shame. And part of how that transformation happens is by allowing ourselves to delight in God.
And of course, that kind of transformation can only happen if we’re actually in touch with our own innermost selves – all the desires and joys and hungers and pain and fear and brokenness and everything else that we’re carrying. Any form of discipleship that divorces us from ourselves or encourages us to construct a mask to hide that innermost self from the world is also creating a barrier that blocks God from working with us to redeem and renew that stuff that’s under the surface.
Try to focus on my tea, toast, and jam each day. May not get much more than that, but try to carve out at least that ten minutes for warmth, flavor and texture.
Can you work that into a haiku?
Just don’t burden people with the idea that they are failing spiritually if they are not enjoying life. Society already has little tolerance for the presence of those who are not enjoying and in command of life, for failure; please don’t pile on.
“Grace is the celebration of life, relentlessly hounding all the non-celebrants in the world. It is a floating, cosmic bash shouting its way through the streets of the universe, flinging the sweetness of its cassations to every window, pounding at every door in a hilarity beyond all liking and happening, until the prodigals come out at last and dance, and the elder brothers finally take their fingers out of their ears.”
— Robert Farrar Capon, Between Noon and Three: Romance, Law, and the Outrage of Grace
Just please don’t burden people with the idea that they are failing spiritually if they are not enjoying life. We already have enough pressure to succeed at being healthy, young, beautiful, affluent, thin, smart, accomplished, traveled, experienced, etc., from a society that can’t tolerate the face of failure, suffering, and limitation. For the love of God, please don’t pile on.
As Woody Allen (more or less) omyce said, getting old may not be particularly fun, but at least it beats the alternative.
Maybe self-sacrifice is most meaningful if we know what we’re sacrificing.
If I ask myself, “Am I enjoying my and my wife’s declining health sufficiently?”, I can answer without reservation, “Most sufficiently.”
What a nice and welcome message. We are told to live in the now but it is hard to do. I worry about tomorrow and think of yesterday and sometimes let the goodness/joy of the now past notice. The nice thing about enjoying the now is it turns into yesterday and you can still enjoy it.
God gave us emotions to enjoy and to add meaning to our life. For many things that we enjoy we know that someday we will experience a pain at the lost of that joy but it is worth it. I can say that now at 70 years at 22 years I only thought of joy , as it should be. Youth is wasted on the young and some say old age is wasted on John Barry, that brings me no joy.
Joy To The World , the great carol, tells us what Jesus brought into this world, what Rolheiser is reminding us of. I am very uncomfortable around people who are for what ever reasons unable to enjoy life or at least do not seem to. Maybe they rejoice when I leave.
It is a joy to read good thoughts, well written.