Dear Members and Friends,
Some years ago, we used to host an annual Comedy Night to raise funds for our Haiti Water Projects. Do you remember those? A “stand-up” would come and do a comedy routine; people would buy tickets, and there was even a moderate amount of drinking. (At first we held our comedy nights at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in order to allow BYOB for those who wanted it. Later, Bower Hill’s session narrowly granted a special exemption to permit drinking in our own building—but only on that occasion.) I don’t remember why, but I only made it to two of the comedy nights. One comedian clearly assumed we were fundamentalists. He ribbed us gently for homeschooling and not believing in evolution! The other comedian was a lot funnier, but he made one outrageously cruel joke about handicapped people. I recall very vividly the awkwardness of that moment. People didn’t want to laugh at the joke; it was too unkind. But the shock value of it got the better of most, and they ended up laughing in spite of themselves. The saintly director of Hekima Place was present that evening, and she glanced at me meaningfully, just to make sure I wasn’t laughing.
Laughter is a—well—a funny thing. Jonathan Edwards, the famed Puritan minister, vowed to avoid laughter because it contains an element of mockery, and it usually comes at someone’s expense. I understand that position, even if I do not share it. Edwards would be aghast that 21st century preachers often make jokes from the pulpit—usually about two-thirds of the way through the sermon, when people’s attention spans are starting to flag. Although a theologian, a philosopher, a scientist, and a brilliant academic…a comic Edwards was not. Sadly, the great 18th century Puritan is best known for one very humorless sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”
In contrast, consider this quote from The Times of India: “The day laughter enters back into the holy places they will be really holy, because they will be whole.” The article goes on to say, “When you laugh, you are egoless. There is no past and no future. There is nothing but the laughter.” Laughter, some say, is the universal language. Novelist George R.R. Martin said, “Laugher is poison to fear.” Haven’t we all seen laughter serving a holy function every now and again? Haven’t we seen laughter magically dispelling worry, and estrangement, and tension? On one hand, people long for a bit of reverence in their lives, maybe even something or someone to venerate. We thirst for a degree of solemnity, for it honors the mystery and the majesty that we call God. Most people sense within themselves that life, in all its sacredness, is due a deep and sober respect. On the other hand, laughter and joy are so integral to a healthy spirit that they, too, must have a place in our life of faith.
This Lenten Season is considered a somber time by many. The dreary month of March is usually all-too-happy to reinforce that gloomy impression. Lent is seen as a time for deprivations, and night church (which I recall from childhood as an especially dour thing!), and meditation on the sufferings of Christ. In church, during Lent, we’re not supposed to sing any “alleluias” or “glorias.” We do need seasons of solemnity. But really, even this sometimes-sober season is undergirded by joy. Lenten joy bids us put greater thought into the pleasures we take for granted, to look more closely at the things and the ones we love, to consider more attentively “the lilies of the field.” Our night church—or compline—services have been both solemn and joyful, attended by laughter and tears, as we’ve heard the songs and the stories of those church members with whom we share this journey of faith. And so? Enjoy this time of soul-searching and introspection. Give it the seriousness that it needs. But never at any time should you neglect your soul’s deep desire for laughter. It too is a holy thing.
In Christ’s Peace,