“Enthusiasm means ‘one with the energy of God.’ It derives from root words pointing to be inspired and possessed by the Divine. There is something awesome about this spiritual quality. They are vibrantly alive.”
–Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, Spiritual Literacy
Until I encountered the concept of enthusiasm through the eyes of Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, I associated this loveable, five-syllable word only with youthful passion or extroverted salesclerks. But much to my delight, through the pages of Spiritual Literacy, I discovered this word is imbued with the sacred, offering spiritual pilgrims of all stripes a fresh alternative to cynicism, lethargy, and apathy.
As an experiment, I intentionally focused my life around this word every day for one week with these results: I began to experience a growing sense of light emanating deep within, and a fresh energy for the tasks at hand. I found myself growing more lively and hopeful—and yes, more vibrantly aware of the possibilities before me. I felt a sacred energy rising within, forming this impromptu affirmation: Each day, come what may, I choose to be fully and vibrantly alive.
Endorsed by the Universe
Our next-door neighbor has a white French bulldog named Miss Piggy. Miss Piggy is the embodiment of enthusiasm. Every square inch of Miss Piggy’s shiny plump body quivers with the joy of being alive and in happy relation to others. When she sees me outside, she will run to me, lie on her back, stretch out all four legs to the sun, and wait for the inevitable belly rub—who could resist? Miss Piggy believes in herself, in the world, in life; she is possessed with something I can only describe as “being one with the energy of God.”
Canines may be our best teachers when it comes to the practice of enthusiasm. In Spiritual Literacy, the Brussats offer a reading from Gunilla Norris, about her own dog, Putman: “I wonder how different life would be for me,” says Norris, “if I could be as lacking in self-doubt and self-judgment as Putnam. His whole being demonstrates an assumption that he is a lovable creature, a deserving creature, and an enjoyable one. His fat, aged self simply squirms with the sacred knowledge that he is one of God’s creatures . . . To act as if one had the total endorsement of the universe behind one’s particular existence would be extraordinary!”
Such is the way of enthusiasm: a lavish giving of our whole selves, grounded in the belief that we are loveable creatures, endorsed by the universe, and children of God.
The God Within
The great scientist Louis Pasteur said: “The Greeks have one of the most beautiful words of our language, the word ‘enthusiasm’—a God within. The grandeur of the acts of men are measured by the inspiration from which they spring. Happy is he who bears a God within.”
To speak of enthusiasm is to speak of the God within. What is our God within like? Does she inspire us to give ourselves fully to each moment like Miss Piggy? It is here that I find process theology particularly helpful, for process theology—a friend to many spiritual paths—offers a vision of Divinity that galvanizes our sense of aliveness in the world.
Freshness in the Universe!
Enthusiasm issues from a deep faith in the freshness of each moment. Process theology has helped ground me in such faith, for it suggests a cosmos of connection, as well as a God of tender love and fresh possibilities. That is, it stresses our part as co-creators in a universe of unfolding freshness. How liberating to know that we are loved—and not only loved, but needed! Every smile, every word of encouragement, every stand for justice makes a difference to God and to the world. We are not just helpless bystanders, but real participants in the process of life’s unfolding.
Van Gogh spoke of God as the “struggling artist,” and Whitehead spoke of God as the “poet of the world.” These visionaries understand that novelty comes from the creative mind of God, relevant to each moment of experience. Within each unfolding moment, we have a choice in its creation. We are part of God’s sacred work, part of God’s playful enjoyment of the universe, part of God’s tender compassion for the world. Isn’t it extraordinary that we—flawed and muddled as we are—play a role in the ongoing creation of beauty in the world? And, even when things go terribly wrong—and they often do—fresh forms of life emerge from the rubble, inspiring whole new stories of forgiveness and healing.
Divinity flows through the world like an indefatigable river of life, teaming with fresh possibilities for wholeness and well-being. When we are connected to this divine urgency within, nothing can stop us from practicing the art of enthusiasm, that sacred sense of being one with energy of God.
So, if your own enthusiasm for life, work, or getting out of bed in the morning wanes, perhaps it is time to re-imagine the Divine, to ponder your own unique significance in the scheme of things, and to pay attention to the sacred treasures hidden in everyday life. And, if all else fails, and your enthusiasm for life and work still grows stale—there is nothing for it but to adopt a dog.