Failure to Feast.
2021-04-13 20:01:00 » blog, ethics, philosophy, theology
Alexander Schmemann’s “For the Life of the World” is a beautiful work. It’s absolutely stunning. There are a number of topics and poignant things you could pontificate over… but the one which stuck out to me, especially since in the (Catholic) church we just entered into the joyous season of Easter, is that of feasting.
Much has been said about the relationship between feasting and fasting; that there are no highs without lows, and that abstinence makes a return all the more sweet. But what isn’t discussed so much is that this return, this feasting, is really necessary, not just something which we should enjoy temporally.
“Feast means joy… yet if there is something that we- the serious, adult and frustrated Christians of the twentieth century- look at with suspicion, it is certainly joy. How can one be joyful when so many people suffer? When so many things are to be done?”
Growing up on a farm with a heavy ‘protestant work ethic’, this mindset is deeply ingrained, and something I’m still trying to dig myself out of. God doesn’t just open the doors and invite us to be joyful, he expects us to take him up on the invitation. To scoff at this and say ‘there is still pain in the world’ is in fact, the very sin Judas commits in John 12. Even in the world of suffering, there is time to rejoice and make waste for joy to flash forth.
Schmemann mentions that a good number of Christians take feast days as not really part of their life, or at best, as nice excuses for leisure.
“To understand the true nature - and "function” - of feasts we must remember that Christianity was born and preached at first in cultures in which feasts and celebrations were an organic and essential part of the whole world view and way of life. For the man of the past a feast was not something accidental and “additional”: it was his way of putting meaning into his life, of liberating it from the animal rhythm of work and rest. A feast was not a simple “break” in the otherwise meaningless and hard life of work, but a justification of that work, its fruit, its- so to speak - sacramental transformation into joy and, therefore, into freedom.“
This immediately says to me something akin to a county fair. A capstone. An annual affair. "It’s what we do.” I grew up in a heavily-4H-involved county and for us, our feast was the county fair at the end of every summer.
The key here isn’t so much that there is material good and luxury and feel-good. The key is that the luxury and feel-good is the result of all the other activity. Fully automatic luxury space communism does not bring the same joy that hard week’s work and a banquet at the end of it all does. Even a jail cell with three square meals is hardly model of joy, even if the average consumption of utility is the same or better. No, the joy arises clearly not from luxuries, or from the laboring for them, but in the relationship between the two.
The joy of a feast does not stand high because it is of a better nature than the fast. The joy of a feast is high precisely because it is built out of the works of the fast. But when we are done fasting, we must enjoy the feast we have built.