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Monday, January 27, 2014

Hanging Out With Happy People

So, yesterday after liturgy, I went with some friends to the Timkat celebration of the local Ethiopian Orthodox community.  This feast is their Epiphany/Theophany commemoration, and they have a giant party for several days that rival even our typical Pascha celebrations.

Normally, I hate crowds and noise (my head provides enough internal clatter), but once I arrived it was a completely different feeling.  Sure, being one of the very few white people in attendance, I got more than a few stares.  All it took was eye contact and a smile, and all was well.  When an Ethiopian priest then came up and greeted me, suddenly everyone wanted pictures with us.

It was a joyful event.  Everyone was happy and chatting (Ethiopians are not loud, and I found this crowd quieter than a typical American crowd of the same size, even though everyone was talking and singing).  There were hymns accompanied by drums, and then a solemn blessing of the water.  Then they started to dowse the crowd.

Those who are in recovery need to be careful of the people they hang around.  Addicts are often very sensitive and pick up quickly on their environments.  They tend to mirror the emotions and attitudes of those around them, because it is the 'safest bet' when you are insecure.  'Follow the crowd' is the motto.

That's why addicts tend to stay sober when they are around other sober people, and relapse quickly when they hang around users.  It is a type of mirroring, hidden deep within the subconscious.

So, it is important to hang out with happy people if you want to be happy (and sober).  Even though I came there tired and sore from a long morning in church, I soon forgot my exhaustion because of the joy and love that flooded the fairground.  I was not particularly unhappy that morning, but I noticed that I felt much better after a few minutes of wading into waters of kindness and peace that permeated the crowd.

With so much negativity these days, even our attempts to be happy are often negativity wrapped in a smile.  Look at how comedians make us laugh at the expense of others.  Timkat had none of that.  People were just happy on their own without having to bring anyone else down or impose their 'superiority' on the world.

We may gather with friends, but how often do our conversations turn to criticizing others or bemoaning some injustice.  Yes, we do feel a bit better with companionship, but we must be careful in seeing whether our friends are inadvertently pulling us down even while trying to lift us up.

Liturgy and worship are supposed to be events of unqualified joy.  As well they should, because true joy is a divine experience.  At the core of this feast is the worship of God, and to that the people respond with gratitude.

Now, there may be someone who who will say, "But aren't they monophysite heretics?  How can you go there?"  I can go there because I appreciate their love for God and devotion to Christ.  These are people who have struggled with war, persecution, and poverty... yet they always come up smiling.  I don't have to have 100% agreement with someone's theology in order to love them, or receive their love in return.  I wasn't going to jump up on their altar.  I just came to be with them and soak up a bit of their happiness.

It would be stupid to deny the presence of God in their midst, just as it is stupid to assume that God only visits those of us who 'have' all of the right theology.  It is not our theology, it is God's.  And, don't forget, God gave correct theology to Israel, and they still chose to abandon Him.  Correct theology does not make you 'right' in the way that love and mercy and compassion does.

When you go to a 12 Step meeting, God is there.  It is not the same as in an Orthodox church, but it is not intended to be.  Many new addicts can't handle more than a small glimpse of God, otherwise it is so overpowering they would run.  But, even heresy and misguided beliefs are not enough to keep God away.  Remember Balaam and his donkey.  God can penetrate even paganism to reach those who are perishing in strange beliefs.

Timkat is about as far from paganism as one can get.  It is an ancient rite going back to the foundation of Christianity and the Church.  God was there, and it was joyful.  I was glad they shared their happiness with me, and lifted my spirits.  They gave me a dose of love that will help me through the challenges ahead.

All of us need that kind of buoyancy, and so we all need to find those happy places, inside and outside the church walls, where we can be influenced in the right way.


  1. Thank you so much for this post. I really needed to hear this right now. I just became a mom, and am a part of OA-12-step program. One of my friends in program became ill with a depression this fall. I spent a lot of time talking to her, and a week ago I took her to the doctor for medical help. A couple of days ago she asked me to come to my place. My body just said no. Since I have a newborn I dont have a lot of time to spend with other people...and I realised it is important for me that most of that time time is spent with "happy" people since motherhood and not getting enough sleep can be rough :-). I feel guilty about this though, and sometimes I dont understand Gods will in these cases. I feel a lot of guilt when I feel I cant be there for a friend in need, and it feels very "unchristian" when I say no. Yet if I dont say no I get overwhelmed. If you have possibility to respond to this I would be so happy because situations like this usually cause a lot of confusion of what God wants in my life...any advice? :-)

  2. For the educational series in our parish this spring we just got to the section about passions and your post reminded me of one of St. John Cassian's advices to those struggling with dejection: live with godly people.