10 November, 2011

Does God have a sense of humor? I sure hope so!

At first glance, it seemed an odd choice. Yet in retrospect, it was an inspired choice of reading material as I sat aside a friend's bed as he slowly slipped away. Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life, by Fr. James Martin s.j. re-examines the scriptures of the Old and New Testament and presents them as examples where God encourages us to be willing to laugh at ourselves, with others and even with God.

Martin begins by exploring why it is that levity has been denied its rightful place in the pantheon of Christian virtues. He writes how Christians have tended to focus on concepts of God as judge; a being who will reward or punish us for our sins and faithfulness. When one’s ultimate fate is ‘on the line’, it tends to focus one’s attention on preventing mistakes and failures. For believers, these are serious issues. Institutionally as well, Christian Churches have tended to lift the more ‘serious types’ to places of authority, their dour attitude seen as proof of the seriousness of their spiritual intent. Further, he points out that clergy of all creeds tend to deal on a daily basis with issues of suffering, illness, death, ministering to those who suffer such tragic events. Laughter is rarely heard at such times.

If we believe that Jesus was fully human and divine, is it not self-evident that laughter, joy and humor would be part of his human experience? Fr. Martin writes that if we examine Jesus' teachings and parables, we can see a human smile shining through some of them.  Martin points out that Jesus was not above teasing his disciples as is evidenced by his referring to James and John as being 'sons of thunder' in the wake of their mother advocating that they be given places of honor in God's kingdom. 

Martin reaches back into the Old Testament as well. He points out that Abraham and Sarah each laughed when told that they were to give birth to a son, a laughable suggestion to them given their advanced ages. When the prophecy came to pass, they gave that child the name Isaac meaning 'laughter' in their native tongue, a fact that seems forgotten by believers many centuries later.

He goes on further to examine how joy should permeate the prayer of believers, especially when giving thanks for blessings and graces received in daily life or when we recognize our human shortcomings in fulfilling our daily obligations to God and each other.  It was this point that touched me deeply as I accompanied my friend through his final hours and days, thinking of the many times we had shared in a good joke or funny story throughout our long friendship, a fact I shared with others at his wake and funeral.

I heartily recommend this book as a necessary tonic and aid in rediscovering the joy of our belief, even in the face of pain and suffering.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like just what the dr. ordered...am going to get a copy.
    Father Tim it was wonderful finally meeting you. The surroundings of a hospital room were not what i had hoped for but i thank you so much for coming to see me and for your wonderful blessing


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