One of the hardest things to do is to celebrate. We want to, we need to, but we don’t know how to! Celebration does not come naturally to us. What do most of us do when we celebrate? We overdo: we take a lot of things we ordinarily do, drinking, eating, loving, talking, singing, humoring, and so on, and we simply take them to excess. We eat too much, drink too much, sing too loudly, tell one joke too many, simulate love too much, hoping that somehow in the excess we will touch celebration (whatever that means).
We try to attain ecstasy by pushing ourselves beyond our normal senses. But, for all our frenzied attempts, there is precious little genuine enjoyment. Occasionally we do succeed and we genuinely celebrate: we join others, feel ourselves being widened, made larger, in community, in playfulness, in love. But that happens seldom, and never in frenzy. Mostly the party is followed by a hangover, either physical, emotional, or psychological. The reasons for this are complex, deep, and too often hidden from us. I would like to try to flush out one of them.
The main reason why we find it so difficult to truly celebrate is that we lack the capacity to genuinely enjoy, to simply take life, pleasure, love and enjoyment as a gift from God, pure and simple. Perhaps I shouldn’t say we lack this capacity because we have it as a God-given gift in us. More correctly, our capacity to enjoy is too often buried under a mound of what psychologists would call collective neurotic guilt. That is a heavy term but it means simply that too often we cannot enjoy what is legitimate and given us by God to enjoy because somehow, consciously or unconsciously, we sense that all of our pleasures are “stealing from God.” This feeling wounds most of us. Somehow, in the name of God, we deprive ourselves of the right to enjoy.
Whatever the answer, we are stuck with the situation. We go through life deprived of our capacity to enjoy, alternating between rebellious enjoyment (“pleasure we steal from God”) and discipline and duty (which we do without enough love and enjoyment). We never seem to be able to genuinely celebrate. I say genuinely because, paradoxically, our incapacity to enjoy tends to push us into pseudo-celebration, hedonism and the pursuit of pleasure. Put simply, because we cannot enjoy we pursue enjoyment too much. Too often this leads to a dangerous confusion: we begin to confuse pleasure with enjoyment, excess with ecstasy, and the denial of self-consciousness with the heightened awareness that community brings. All the unfulfilling substitutes in the world won’t fill in what’s missing because we haven’t celebrated.
Why do we have such a need to celebrate? What causes that urge in us? We have a deep need to celebrate because certain moments and events of our lives (e.g., a birthday, a wedding, a graduation, a commitment, an achievement) demand that they be celebrated. They demand that we surround them with rituals which heighten and intensify their meaning and that we link ourselves with others as we live through them.
The same is true of many of our deep erotic, playful, and creative feelings. They demand to be celebrated: shared, heightened, widened, linked to others. We have an insatiable need to celebrate and it is good! Ultimately we have a need for ecstasy (EK STASIS, which means standing outside of ourselves in a heightened self-awareness). We go to celebrate in order to do this: to heighten events and feelings, to share them, expand them, link them to others, to be playful, to intensify and bring to ecstasy. But given our inability to do this simply, given our guilt complexes and our inhibitions, we make pseudo-celebration.
We try to find the expanded awareness in excess, the widened community in sex, and the ecstasy of heightened self-awareness in the frenzied denial of our consciousness. Small wonder we trudge home hung over, a bit more empty and a bit more tired and quite a bit more all alone. The hangover is always a sure sign that, somewhere back down the road, we missed a sign-post. But we must continue to try.
Christ came and declared a wedding feast, a celebration, at the very centre of life. They crucified him not for being too ascetical, but because he told us that we might enjoy. He told us that life will give us more goodness and enjoyment than we can stand, if we can learn to receive it without fear. But we are still in exile, without wedding garments, looking for the key to the room of celebration. Perhaps we need to be just a bit more earnest and sincere when we say the words: your kingdom come!