Champagne for the Soul: Celebrating God's Gift of Joy
Late in 1999, Mike Mason set out on a 90-day experiment in joy. He determined that for three months he would "be joyful in the Lord. Because this was an experiment, there was room for failure. If there were times when I wasn't joyful, I wouldn't despair…. Rather I would gently, persistently return as best I could to my focus on joy."
In the book's introduction, Mason admits that he had always struggled with joy. "To break my addiction to the cheap wine of melancholy, I had to seek champagne for the soul."
The 90 chapters that follow --- two pages each, all beginning with a Bible verse --- are not a journal of the experiment but reflections written later. Ultimately, Mason says that joy is a gift of God that is ours for the taking --- but reaching for it, that's often the problem. If we want to be happy, we have to be willing to let go of the melancholy.
Neither the jacket nor the introduction describes the book as a devotional, though that is how I would categorize it. Mason is on a three-month journey, telling us how to find joy every day or introducing us to its various aspects. Reflective sections meant to be exhilarating bordered on boring. Therefore, reading chapter after chapter in one sitting didn't work for me; I couldn't absorb this material in a day or two. This is a journey to or through joy that simply requires time --- like weight loss or muscle building. "Joy is like a muscle," he says, "and the more you exercise it, the stronger it grows."
On this journey Mason is coaxing us along, writing within a biblical framework and contemporary context. Mason's best writing in this book is anecdotal, and I wished for more of it, along the lines of his reflection describing Day 60 of his experiment, which fell on Christmas Day. He had anticipated a double portion of joy, but sometime before dawn, he says, "I plunged into the worst night of my entire experiment. All night long I was gripped by the foolish, but very real, fear that I might not be able to enjoy the next day!" He then turns to a brief, serious discussion of the "war in heaven" described in Revelation 12, before coming back to his own Christmas Day. "Joy will not be scheduled. A zealous plan for everything to go smoothly on Christmas Day, or on any day, is a recipe for disaster. Joy lives in the shadow of the cross, not in a Pollyanna world where everything goes well."
Three years after ending his experiment, he assesses his progress. Though he "cannot quite" say he's "always happy," he says that "every day is full of moments of happiness, as full as the sky is of stars. Yes, an immense expanse of cold black space yawns out there, but that's not what draws my eye anymore. My gaze and, with it, my understanding, have shifted…. All I see now are the bright-jewel-like moments of joy that keep coming to me."
Reading CHAMPAGNE FOR THE SOUL will not, in and of itself, change your outlook on life. But if you're the least bit ready for experimenting with appropriating the promised joy of the Lord, spend some time with this book. Absorb its content and you can't help but find more "jewel-like moments" in your days.
Reviewed by Evelyn Bence on May 20, 2003