Barbara Ehrenreich on Joy and Celebration

Barbara Ehrenreich’s pursuit of truth was a prophetic work and a spiritual commitment.  Her critique of society’s sins and falsities was the same.  Her looking for alternatives was of the same kind. 

Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich interviews Barbara Ehrenreich on Living With a Wild God and her lifelong quest for meaning. BookTV

She was a champion of the Via Transformativa, always seeking to make unjust circumstances better.  She called herself an atheist but wrote a book on God, a “wild God.” 

Her God was a God of Truth and of Justice.  Or shall we just say, her God was Truth and Justice.  Deep Ecumenism dictates that believers who also believe in a God of Truth and Justice hang out together and work together to speak truth to power and create justice from injustice irrespective of what religion they do or do not practice.

Part of the Via Transformativa and of Compassion is celebration.  And Ehrenreich wrote a whole book on the history of celebration that she calls Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy, one of the finest books I know on ceremony and celebration.  I was so struck by it that I utilized it in my study on The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine

Tamsin Shasha, performer, director, writer, aerialist and Artistic Director of Actors of Dionysus, reads an extract from Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy by Barbara Ehrenreich. Actors of Dionysus

Allow me to share some of her teachings here on that all-important subject of ritual or ceremony or liturgy.  Such rituals insured a “kind of spiritual merger with the group,” that brought healing and joy.

She relates how ecstatic ritual was part of the “hunter-gatherers of Australia, the horticulturists of Polynesia, the village peoples of India” and it often led to trance.  But when Europeans encountered it, they called it “savagery.”  The West resisted the drums and “the western male upper-class mind …wall[ed] itself up in a fortress of ego and rationality against the seductive wildness of the world.”

If you examine prehistoric rock carvings in various places—Africa, India Australia, Italy, Turkey, Israel, Iran, Egypt and other places you see rituals of dancing figures.  “Well before people had a written language, and possibly before they took up a settled lifestyle, they danced and understood dancing as an activity important enough to record on stone.” 

Koomurri Australia Aboriginal dance troupe performing the (Bunda) Kangaroo Dance. Koomurri Aboriginal Cultural Workshops

Of course, indigenous people to this day still pray by dancing and in our Cosmic Masses we do the same.

Another purpose to these rituals was to create group courage, “early humans probably faced off predatory animals collectively” and may have warded off wild beasts by their collective shouting and dancing and rituals therefore. 

I think it can be said that Ehrenreich’s God of Truth and of Justice was also a God of Celebration.  Or shall we say, her God was Celebration.

See Matthew Fox, The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine, pp. 45f.  

And Fox, The Reinvention of Work, especially Part III on Reinventing Ritual, pp. 249-295.  

See also, Fox, Naming the Unnameable: 89 Wonderful and Useful Names for God…Including the Unnameable God, pp. 37, 49f., 58f.

To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image: Powwow Dancers, Six Nations of the Grand River Community, 2014. Photo by Peter K Burian on Wikimedia Commons.

Queries for Contemplation

Do you recognize a rhythm in Ehrenreich’s work of Justice and Joy?  Do you find that same rhythm in your own work and celebration?  And in that of your community?

Recommended Reading

The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine

To awaken what Fox calls “the sacred masculine,” he unearths ten metaphors, or archetypes, ranging from the Green Man, an ancient pagan symbol of our fundamental relationship with nature,  to the Spiritual Warrior….These timeless archetypes can inspire men to pursue their higher calling to connect to their deepest selves and to reinvent the world.
“Every man on this planet should read this book — not to mention every woman who wants to understand the struggles, often unconscious, that shape the men they know.” — Rabbi Michael Lerner, author of The Left Hand of God

The Reinvention of Work: A New Vision of Livelihood For Our Time

Thomas Aquinas said, “To live well is to work well,” and in this bold call for the revitalization of daily work, Fox shares his vision of a world where our personal and professional lives are celebrated in harmony–a world where the self is not sacrificed for a job but is sanctified by authentic “soul work.”
“Fox approaches the level of poetry in describing the reciprocity that must be present between one’s inner and outer work…[A]n important road map to social change.” ~~ National Catholic Reporter

Naming the Unnameable: 89 Wonderful and Useful Names for God …Including the Unnameable God

Too often, notions of God have been used as a means to control and to promote a narrow worldview. In Naming the Unnameable, renowned theologian and author Matthew Fox ignites our imaginations by offering a colorful range of Divine Names gathered from scientists and poets and mystics past and present, inviting us to always begin where true spirituality begins: from experience.
“This book is timely, important and admirably brief; it is also open ended—there are always more names to come, and none can exhaust God’s nature.” -Rupert Sheldrake, PhD, author of Science Set Free and The Presence of the Past

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9 thoughts on “<strong>Barbara Ehrenreich on Joy and Celebration</strong>”

  1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    Matthew, Today again you speak to us about Barbara Ehrenreich’s pursuit of truth, saying it “was a prophetic work and a spiritual commitment. Her critique of society’s sins and falsities was the same.” Though she might not have used these words, you show how she was often on the Via Transformativa in working for justice. Not only this, though she claimed to be an atheist, she showed a Deeply Ecumenical approach to working for the common good of all–regardless of race, or religion, or lack of it. Ehrenreich wrote a whole book on the history of celebration that she calls Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy, and you say that its “one of the finest books I know on ceremony and celebration.” But what of your questions for us today? First of all, I must say that I do recognize a rhythm in Ehrenreich’s work of Justice and Joy? And there is all of that in the Via Transformativa–there is justice and celebration. And Yes, I do hope I have the same balanced rhythm in my own life and work.

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    I think of the our immune systems as being Yin (feminine) our Mother Earth from which we came, nurturing/protecting us within. Viruses attempt to steal our DNA and make copies of themselves. So many other autoimmune dis-eases now arising. Yin and Yang come together, in this video dance/trance with the Earth and seek balance in and through each other. Men and women each responding differently and vehemently to the Plaguing Witch. Margaret Mead interprets for us in this video: “If anyone becomes too violent they are disarmed. No one gets hurt.. If anyone is hurt they say the tribe is not real” Mystics with vision using ritual and dance among us.
    We have so much to learn NOW from them and all indigenous cultures and people.

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    I have used ritual in my own life privately. I have let go of unwanted thoughts, feelings, etc. I believe I learned that ritual speaks to a more primal side of the brain. Their is a richness to celebrate ritual with others – I am in a choir and sing every lst and 3rd Sundays. It requires work, but brings great joy to me and hopefully to others who participate in our open rituals.

  4. Avatar

    To speak honestly, I’m having difficulty recognizing the rhythmic movements of justice and joy, due to my own experiences and those of so many others whom have ventured into seeking truth and the telling of this, in the face of injustices. What I have encountered through seeking justice is much pain, suffering and sorrow; which has led to the tension of a paradoxal perception of justice and joy. Ceremony and ritual has helped me to process this energetic tension, however this too was not what I would call a joy filled experience, but rather a way of releasing and letting go. I do recognize that my heart has expanded into greater measures of compassion, mercy and love, thoughout the process of seeking justice, and this does bring me moments of joy, in knowing that I am cultivating and nurturing these qualities, characteristics and virtues of the Divine nature within my humanity. Perhaps Mathew will expand on the connection he is making with regards to the rhythmic movements of justice and joy, because I’m sensing that I am not fully understanding nor recognizing what he is conveying.

  5. Avatar

    My contemplative faith and prayer includes Being~becoming God’s Spirit of Love~Truth~Justice~Peace~Joy in my inner-outer daily life in the silence with others and Mother Nature, within God’s ongoing co-Creation~Evolution in Diverse Loving Oneness….

  6. Avatar

    Hello Matthew,
    Thank you for your insight into Barbara Ehrenreich‘s passion. I have a question for you. How have you experienced joy in community during these past few years of life with COVID?

  7. Avatar

    Dear Matthew and team,
    I so appreciate the variety of comments and questions raised from your reflection that has been raised. I can resonate with them. Again, I refer to the scriptures to do justice, love tenderly and walk humbly with your God. Doing justice is not easy and takes a lot of perseverance like a woman given birth yet afterwards comes the joy. We often labor not knowing or seeing the outcome for a long time. Yet it is God’s Work we do and God gives us the power to continue often without results. Joy is the Presence of God knowing we are doing something beautiful and meaningful for the world making it a better place to live. Thank you.

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