devozine

For Youth Workers Post

CELEBRATE LIFE

Lanecia A. Rouse

“In the Habit” session for use with devozine meditations for December 28–31, 2015.

MAKING THE CONNECTION

“The other day, a friend asked if my husband and I are birthday-celebration people. Without skipping a beat, my husband said, ‘I wasn’t until I met Lanecia. She is all about celebrating birthdays and any other milestone she can find. Now, I am a birthday celebration person too.’ He was right. I am all about celebrations and fighting to experience joy in life.

“Celebrating life has not always come naturally for me. Over the years, however, God has placed in my life people and experiences that have taught me how to celebrate and to do the intentional work of allowing joy to take full bloom in my entire being. Much of it was learned in youth ministry, serving with young people who loved celebrating life. They helped me to see how important moments of celebration are in a world that is demanding and stressful, in a world where tragedy happens every day. I learned how to laugh, to dance in the streets when I hear music that moves me, and to ride around the city with friends singing our favorite songs at the top of our lungs. I have discovered that I find great joy in hosting dinner parties with friends and finding specials ways to celebrate the birthdays of people I love.

“When I think about it, being intentional about cultivating joy and celebrating the gifts of life has become a way for me to connect with God and to love my neighbor and myself. The spiritual discipline of celebrating life helps us to embrace joy, to delight in good things, and to live our lives from a place of gratitude for the love of God. The discipline of celebration is essential to our lives, especially for youth whose world seems to be getting more demanding, stressful, and exposed to the tragedy every day.

“The Bible shows us that celebrating is part of life with God. In the Old Testament, we learn about the Year of Jubilee, a time when Israel celebrated the gracious provision of God. During the Jubilee, slaves were set free, people’s debts were canceled, people rested from labor, and property owners who had lost property got it back. Wow! That was a reason to celebrate! The Old Testament also includes songs of celebration and stories of people taking time to celebrate after surviving difficult and violent times. The New Testament begins with the celebration of the birth of the Messiah. It includes stories about celebrating weddings, friendships, healing, the Resurrection, and new life found in Jesus. In all the stories of celebration, we see people taking time to remember with gratitude and to rejoice in hope for what is still to come. These moments help to connect us to God in ways that strengthen us to move forward in faith, hope, and love. Celebrations help us to be more grateful and loving.

“This session will guide your group in thinking theologically about the spiritual discipline of celebration and the difference between joy and happiness; group members will learn ways to practice celebrating daily.” —Lanecia

MEET THE WRITER

devozine Lanecia Rouse-Feature-SQLanecia A. Rouse is my name. I am a creative (photographer, artist, writer, speaker) living in Houston, Texas. Before becoming a full-time creative in September 2014, I served as the Project Director of The Art Project, Houston, a therapeutic art and self-empowerment project of the Bread of Life, Inc. for my neighbors living on the streets of Houston, Texas. Prior to the move to Houston in March 2011, I served in youth ministry for thirteen years, most received with the brilliant, bursting, beautiful, youth of Belmont United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tennessee.

STUFF YOU WILL NEED

  • Bibles
  • paper
  • pencils
  • scrap paper
  • candle and matches
  • pocket-size composition notebooks or pocket-size note pads
  • markers, crayons, and colored pencils
  • glue sticks and/or Modge Podge
  • sponge brushes for Modge Podge
  • images from magazines (faces, items, colors, textures)
  • Optional Items: decorations, instant camera and film or digital camera, photo booth props
  • Print-Friendly Version of this session

PLUGGING IN

  • The Beautiful Disciplines: Helping Young People to Develop Spiritual Roots, by Martin Saunders is full of practical activities, stories, and information to help young people develop a faith that is rooted in the ancient spiritual practices of the Judaism and Christianity. The last chapter provides background information as well as practical exercises to help young people further explore the spiritual discipline of celebration.
  • The Art of Celebration Story” by Rend Collective tells the story of the album The Art of Celebration, which is a great album to play during the activity portion of the lesson. The video tells of celebration and joy in the Lord.

CHECKING IN

Before the group arrives, receive time with your team creating the atmosphere of a celebration in your meeting space. Nothing extravagant—all you need are confetti, streamers, and party hats to set the tone.

If you have the resources and capabilities, set up a photo booth or photo area where participants can take photos with props during dinner. You can use an instant camera and display the photos in the room, or use a digital camera and display the photos later or on a screen. Either way, youth enjoy photos with friends and the opportunity to be silly. The photos displayed can be a means of celebrating the community.

Once group members have arrived and been welcomed, ask each person in turn the following question. Ask people to answer aloud or to talk about their response with the people beside them.
       What is the most memorable celebration you have experienced?

After everyone has had a chance to talk, say something like this: “Thank you for telling your celebration stories. Celebrating is good. Everyone loves a good party or time to rejoice when we experience something good. It is an important part of our life with God and one another. Today we are going to explore through scripture and art the importance of celebrating and living a life of joy.”

EXPLORING THE WORD

Scripture: Philippians 4:4–9

The heart of Paul’s letter to the Philippians is joy in the Lord. For Paul joy in the Lord was an expression of life lived in communion with God and neighbor through Jesus Christ. Paul believed that joy was more than a response to good circumstances, which fades as soon as life gets tough. Joy is stronger than fleeting happiness. Paul believed that those who follow Jesus Christ not only seek rightful living before God, but they also have a desire to connect intimately with God through joy, prayer, and thanksgiving.

The letter begins with the beautiful Christ Hymn and then moves into words regarding the threefold expression of Jewish piety—joy in the Lord, prayer, and gratitude.

Read aloud Philippians 4:4–9.

Invite discussion with all or some of these questions for reflection:
       What word or phrase stood out in the scripture? Why?
       What does Paul mean when he tells the Philippians to celebrate life with God through Jesus?
       What are some ways we can celebrate life with God?
       How is thanksgiving related to joy and celebration?
       Reflecting on the text, why are celebration and joy important to our lives with God through Jesus?
       Is it possible to celebrate or rejoice in the Lord through all circumstances? Why? Why not?
       What are some practices and ways that we, as a church, celebrate and experience the joy of the Lord together?

Play the online video “The Art of Celebration.” Invite discussion with some or all of the following questions:
       What captured your imagination and attention in this video?
       Have you thought of God as the “ultimate artist of celebration”? How does that name for God inform your understanding of celebration?
       What is the difference between happiness and joy?
       What brings you joy?
       What are some ways you know or imagine that we, as followers of Christ, remind ourselves and others that we still have a reason to sing, even in the most challenging and difficult situations?

CELEBRATION JOURNALS

Invite group members to create celebration journals. Remembering, naming, and claiming the goodness, beauty, and wonder of life are essential to the spiritual practice of celebration. This activity provides a space for participants to pay attention to God, who is always at work in the world, creating goodness and beauty.

Distribute pocket-sized composition books to use as journals. Have available markers, crayons, colored pencils, glue sticks, Modge Podge, and images from magazines. Instruct group members to use the art supplies to create a cover that reflects the people, things, places, and experiences in life that are sources of great joy and remind them that God is good.

After the youth have created their journal covers say something like this: “The journals are for writing about specific moments of goodness, beauty, and wonder you experience as you journey through each day. Write at least once in your journal every day, especially on days that are difficult and challenging. Usually those are the days we need to pay the most attention to God’s presence in our lives. The process of looking for moments to celebrate, writing them, and giving thanks to God for them can be a great source of joy to help you make it through hard times. The pocket journal will not only become your own book of praise to God, it will also serve as a memory book for you when you forget what goodness, beauty, and joy in the Lord looks like.”

JOY VESSELS

One source of joy is when we hear or read words that uplift and encourage our hearts and minds. Invite group members to create joy cards that they will place in random places around the church, community, town, or city for people to find.

Distribute index cards. Invite people to write on one side of their card an encouraging scripture verse, affirmation, quotation, or personal note that will bring joy to the receiver. Ask them to create on the other side of the card an image that expresses or illustrates what they have written on the first side of the card. They are not to put their name on the card.

Each person can make three, four, or five cards. Encourage people to put their cards in places where people will find them—for example: a park bench, a dinner table, a sink at the church, a hymnal or Bible at church, a desk at home. This is a fun and simple way to help group members tap into their creativity and be a source of joy in someone else’s life.

SHARING IN PRAYER

Ask group members to form a circle around a lit candle that represents the presence of Christ. Pass the candle around the circle, inviting each person, as he or she holds the candle, to answer the following question:
       When did you experience joy this week?
If a person chooses not to answer aloud, instruct him or her to pass the candle to the next person.

Conclude the session by offering a prayer or by using the benediction from Numbers 6:24–26 (NRSV):
       The Lord bless you and keep you;
       the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
       the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

TAKING IT FURTHER

One thing is for sure: life is hard. Every day people face obstacles, big or small, that make it easy to forget that the heart of life is good and that the joy of the Lord is our strength. Sometimes we all need help remembering to take time to identify and to celebrate what is good and beautiful about life lived with God, even in dark or hectic times.

Empower your group to imagine, design, plan, and implement gatherings for your community with the intention of helping people practice the spiritual discipline of celebration. Guide the group in compiling a list of activities that bring joy and that help people remember that life shared with God is good. Then help the group find ways of providing joy-filled experiences for people in the community. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Hold an outdoor movie night in the church parking lot.
  • Partner with a local non-profit to host a game night, monthly birthday party, holiday party, ice-cream sundae night, and so on, providing an opportunity for people to enjoy life and to nurture community.
  • Organize visits with residents who do not have regular visitors at a local nursing home.
  • Host a line dancing night or concert for the community.
  • Decide that once a month the youth will volunteer in the community together.
  • Plan to write and mail birthday cards to every member of the church, to celebrate their lives and to let them know they are loved and remembered.
  • Host art-making classes or art shows.
  • Host a weekly Frisbee football game at the park.
  • Host a dinner party where people are able to eat well, talk, and get to know one another.

Who knows what celebrations God is waiting for you to host for your community. Whatever space your group creates for people in the community will be a gift. Have fun with the process and remember that anything is possible with God.

—from devozine In the Habit (November/December 2015). Copyright © 2015 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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