This chapter is a celebration of pleasure. That’s right, a Christian celebration of delightful, sensuous, pleasure—and not in the once-a-year sex-sermon way. This is, as will be familiar now, a focus on the ordinary-everyday experience of pleasure—“the slight bitterness of tea, the feel of sunshine on the skin, a ripe avocado, a perfect guitar lick, or a good plot twist” (129).
Also familiar will be reciprocal relationship—Tish calls it “symbiotic cross-training”!—between the school of the ordinary and the school of gathered worship. She once again ties these two together. Learning to delight in a cup of tea (and not rushing past its beauty) prepares us to absorb the wonder of the community gathered in worship. Likewise, singing and looking and listening artfully in worship train us to be better observers of daily beauty all around us. All of this enjoyment, she insists, is a reflection of the God who delights in the things God has created.
While it’s easy to think that seeking pleasure is the thing the world does, Tish argues perceptively that the sort of pleasure faith calls for is indeed countercultural. Which means it’s difficult and unnatural for us, as we’ve been trained and nurtured otherwise.
First, our consumerist culture appears to be obsessed with pleasure, but really our superficial discarding of one experience for another (for another, for another, for another…) is a sort of anti-pleasure. “Greed and consumerism,” she argues, “dull our delight” (130). Further, I’d add that consumerism doesn’t delight in the cup of tea itself, but merely uses the cup of tea for the “Experience” and then quickly discards it when the experience is past. This way of treating things, the tangible stuff in the world, is not the materialism we often judge it to be; it’s _anti-_materialism, a focus not on the beauty of the thing in itself, but only in what I can (quickly) take from the thing—or person.
From this perspective, I’d argue that we Creationists—we who affirm the story in which the Divine makes stuff and pronounces all of it very good—we are invited to be the most thoroughgoing materialists around!
Second, we are a culture of pragmatists. We get stuff done! And we get it done efficiently. But pure pleasure and pragmatism often find themselves at odds. Frequently, our efficiency comes at the cost of beauty and enjoyment and aesthetics. “Workaholism and constant connectivity fight against our ability to be present to the pleasure of the moment” (130).
Both her cultural diagnoses are worth further reflection, for sure. But where Tish is practical in this chapter is her advocacy on behalf of slowing down to delight in the (extra)ordinary all around us. If this all sounds like the popular contemporary language of “mindfulness,” perhaps it is because there is overlapping wisdom here. While mindfulness often refers to practices of meditation and other ways of quieting the mind, one researcher Ellen Langer calls it, “the very simple process of actively noticing new things.”^1 For example, she says, go home this evening to a friend or partner you’ve known forever and decide to notice five things you haven’t noticed before—and watch that person comes alive to you in a fresh way.
For Tish, intentionality and practices like these make us better able, with the psalmist, to “taste and see.” They lead to “moments of sanctuary, moments when wonder scoots up to me with a nudge” (134). They are sanctuary, in that they are both holy and places of refuge. Sacred and safe. Majestic and welcoming. Sanctuary is that all-important double experience of God’s grandness and God’s closeness. Delightful beauty both surprises us (“Wow!”) and warms our cooled-over pragmatist hearts (“Ahhh”).
“Taste and see how good the Lord is; the one who takes refuge in him is truly happy!” (Psalm 34:8 CEB) Perhaps if we have ears to hear, we can catch the psalmists frequent celebration of ordinary-everyday pleasure and delight.