Laugh! It’s Good for the Spirit

21 09 2010

by Barbara Howard
Independence, MO USA

For several years my husband, Dick, and I, were co-ministers at retreats for priesthood, leaders, women, and youth.

“The Lighter Side of Church History,” a session in which people shared humorous tales from their lives in the church, became a regular event. During one session, an older woman said, “Recently my grandson attended church with me, and during the sermon looked at me several times. I was so happy to be with him and so grateful for our congregation welcoming him, that I was smiling. Finally, he said, ‘Grandma, don’t you know you are in church? You’re s’posed to have a mad or sad face in church, not a glad face.’”

We laughed, but this story shows an important truth. Despite our goal to be “communities of joy, hope, love, and peace,” we often take ourselves far too seriously. Larry Dossey, a doctor noted for his books on prayer, believes “humor catalyzes spiritual growth.” Humor allows us to see “the naked truth” about ourselves. It “dissolves the walls of our ego” and “melts the barriers between ourselves and others,” destroying anything that keeps us from God.

These are lofty-sounding outcomes for such things as silly skits at a campfire. At retreats, where a few people may be at odds over interpretations of scripture or church policy, healthy humor can dissolve barriers and create bonds. After laughing at stories of shared human foibles, a new spirit of community emerges.

Humor can enrich our worship. Some years ago, after a sermon by Danny Belrose at a Congregational Leaders Workshop, a young woman said, “I was surprised that in the middle of laughing I felt so close to God. I wish more of our preachers were like Danny.”

Geoff Spencer deepened my understanding of the scripture, “Be ye perfect,” when he explained that properly translated it is, “Be ye mature.” Perfection is impossible. Maturity may be a struggle, but it’s at least possible. Folks who laugh at their own flaws seem more mature than those who pretend not to have flaws.

We can impede a genuine relationship with God when we get in the way. Our own false self, the ego that puts us at the center of the universe, keeps God from the place where God belongs. Humor, especially self-deprecation, can help us laugh at our foibles instead of replaying them or recreating scenarios where we act perfectly. Vulnerability opens us to God.

We face many serious issues as a community. To allow any issue to separate us from each other, and thus from God, is tragic.

Meister Eckhart, a medieval theologian, reminds us of God’s joyful nature when he says that even as all the saints in heaven and on Earth rejoice at our acts of goodness, “the joy of them all together amounts to as little as a bean when compared to the joy of God over good deeds. For truly, God laughs and plays.”

Humor is a divine gift that allows us to continue our journey together in healing, healthy ways.

Recommended Spiritual Practice

Gather a small group of friends or family to share funny or embarrassing stories from their lives. Begin with a prayer of gratitude for the gift of laughter. Following the sharing, close with a prayer of thanks for the joy of being together in God’s presence.



3 responses

24 09 2010
Darren Goble

Barbara, thank you for sharing. I appreciate the Geoffrey Spencer quote (it goes to show that how the Bible reads is not always what the Bible says).

23 09 2010
William L. Raiser

“Geoff Spencer deepened my understanding of the scripture, “Be ye perfect,” when he explained that properly translated it is, “Be ye mature.” Perfection is impossible. ”

Contrary to your comment and to that implied by Spencer, the call to perfection makes great sense. Only in this way will we move in the proper direction. This provides our north star.

A number of businesses, for example, have learned that asking the question, What would be the “perfect” product in this category or to solve this problem?, opens the doors to thinking “outside the box”.

We are called to the same type of thinking, and action, in our discipleship. We shouldn’t settle for any lesser goal.

22 09 2010
Leigh Anne

What an awesome testimony and one we can all learn from! We DO take ourselves FAR too seriously at times

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