Champagne for the Soul:
by Mike Mason, Waterbrook Press, 2003, 188 p.
This book records Mike Mason’s 90-day experiment in joy, beginning in October, 1999. Mason says he lived most of his life in a state of anxious, borderline depression. At one point he sank even lower, ending up in Alcoholics Anonymous. Later in life, after having been a Christian for ten years, he dropped into an even deeper depression. His 90-day quest for joy was a bold attempt to test the validity of the biblical injunction to “rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice” (Philippians 4:4).
The format Mason chose to document this three-month experience was to write ninety, two-page articles, each headed by a biblical passage that speaks of the possibility of sustained joy in the life of believers. In every article the reader can sense Mason trying to determine whether the “joy of the Lord” can be lasting and transformative, in contrast to the “bubbly stuff” he once was addicted to. In the end he answers that question in the affirmative. Joy can be a constant for those who know God intimately.
Mason illustrates quite well that promises of joy permeate the biblical text. The big question driving his experiment, however, was whether that promise held true for specific time periods only or through the “thick and thin” of all of life’s experiences. He notes that we tend to reject the latter option because we all know that life involves times of tragedy and pain that naturally lead us to grieve and lament. Indeed, my first impressions, while reading the book, were that Mason was living in a state of denial.
But as I continued reading I began to see that Mason was in fact allowing for the presence of all the varied emotional responses that come with difficulties and hardships in life. He says it is appropriate, for example, to grieve the loss of a loved one, to groan in our spirits in the context of overwhelming tragedy, and to be justifiably angry at injustices caused by human evil. One image he uses helped me to better understand his thesis. He states that joy is like the watermark image found on expensive stationary. While the text of life written on this paper may document much negativity and legitimate emotional responses other than joy, the reality underlying this text can be the watermark of joy.
Thus, Mason contends, that no matter what our circumstances or immediate emotional responses to them may be, joy is always within reach – just below the text of life. This joy, he acknowledges is a mystery. While one must participate actively in shaking off the gloom and taking hold of joy, in the end it is a gift. Far from advocating a triumphalism that sports a perpetual plastic grin, Mason encourages us to experience the full range of human emotions. But he insists that undergirding them all lies the potential of the “joy of the Lord”, a reality we can retreat to if we so choose.
I think Mason has a point. However, I personally need to process his thesis a little more, perhaps because of too many negative experiences with plastic grins on Christians who try to live lives of continuous denial. I suspect that in the end I will need to agree with him that most of us would benefit from a more pervasive presence of joy in our lives.