[image:Downtown, Annapolis, 2013, JAVanDevender]
Statues are of Alex Haley reading "Roots" to kids. He was in "the flow".
Psalm 1:2 (NKJV)
2 But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night.
What do work-a-holics, professional combat soldiers, dedicated artists of all venues, high performing athletes and serious "gamers' all have in common? They are "happiest" when they are doing stuff... not when they complete whatever it is they are doing.
A Hungarian-born Psychologist with the apparently unpronounceable name Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi has spent his life pondering the phenomenon of human happiness. His inquiry was directed to the state itself as well as the factors or causes which bring it about. He's gained quite a bit of traction over the years and is responsible for introducing the idea of "flow" as the experience of happiness into our vocabulary. "Flow" in his terminology is that state of total "being" that is present when a person is fully engaged in an activity that consumes their total focus and brings forth out of them their maximum capabilities. In his words, "it is not the anticipation of a beautiful picture (that so enthralls the artist) but the process of painting itself. ..." And it is not a state that is restricted to highly talented specialists. He found it to be universally present whenever a person is "actively involved in a difficult enterprise, in a task that stretches our physical and mental abilities. ... any activity can do it." [quotes from The Evolving Self, Harper Collins, 1993]
How about that?!? Human beings like to do stuff, are happiest when they are doing it, and are not designed to sit around in blissful couch-potato fashion whiling away the hours brainlessly watching some inane program on TV. Who would have ever thought?
Professor M. C. is fairly objective in his observations (not so much his conclusions). He observes that these same people, who have such intense "happiness" during times of "flow", are often prone to some pretty negative times when the "flow" is gone. The work-a-holic who has to deal with retirement. The athlete whose youth and abilities are past. The professional soldier in times of peace. He notices that in order to "transform life into a unified flow experience, it helps to have faith in a system of meanings that gives purpose to one's being."
How about that! Life itself, the entirety of life, has to be the object of desire with the same kind of total focus, total absorbtion, that characterizes the creative process in art or sports. Dr. M. C. understands that a life of "happiness" would be one in which a person was totally engaged in a process... the process of living... which is directed toward an end, the desireability of which furnishes our motivation and excites our zeal and which, by the way, stretches us to the limit of our capacities in order to do it well. This over-arching 'purpose' for living is appropriated by 'faith.' Dr. M. C. of course denies the validity of religion as such but he is careful to acknowledge that these ancient practices, of whatever type, did in fact furnish just such a ground for viewing life this way. In other words, religions sought (erroneously, in his view) to give people a reason to find "delight" in life, to live in the "flow", to have, quoting a far more greater Thinker, "life, and that more abundantly."
Dr. M. C. wants human beings to embrace his idea of "The Evolving Self", to take charge of the process of evolution, to come to grips with who we are as community, relational, activity oriented animals and discover that we can devote our lives to the betterment of all the world and discover happiness there. This is, of course, poppy-cock. There is that whole problem of sin, total depravity, etc. which he blithely dismisses as being a mere obstacle to overcome. Dr. M. C. is on the verge of truth... he has had a glimpse of something important.. but he falls into the chasm separating fallen unregenerate humanity from the knowledge of God. What a pity.
What is true is this. God has designed man to live life abundantly. God has designed man to find his happiness in activity. Man was created in God's image and God is a creating God, a sustaining God, a God who is totally engaged in process. (Anthropologically speaking only, I am very aware of God's "simplicity" and that He is definitely not a God in process Himself. I speak only in terms of the categories He has given us to understand Him.) Man is thus happiest when he is following God, imitating God, striving in God's work, giving his all to the Kingdom, being engaged, stretched, and excited about what is happening.
Each of us has all that open to us. Life is worth the living of it and "flow" is a useful concept. If we understand our lives as the canvas on which we, through God's Holy Spirit, are painting a Master-piece, then things begin to click... difficulties are understood differently... irritations are put in their place... and ultimate despair is avoided.
The man described in Psalm 1 is a happy man. He is going with the flow. He is walking in the pathways of God and his delight is in how the law of the Lord illuminates, gives meaning to, and energizes his walk along, the path God has set him on.
So it is, Dr. M. C. was correct. Man, in order to live a life of "flow" needs a bigger picture than just the immediate activity. He needs "faith" in a system. Such a system is present in this world. It is called the "Kingdom of God" and it is a victorious work which engages our total person. Let's "go" with that.