Go Ahead and Laugh!
- Thursday, December 13, 2001
Laughter and gaiety are genuine adult needs. In The Color Purple, a broken Sophia laments, "I know what it feels like to want to sing, and have it beat out of ya." If laughter should be harnessed in everyday living, it certainly has to be restrained when it comes to religion. After all, is there anything more serious than God, anything more solemn than the holy, the sacred? Sometimes, we in the church go out of our way to ensure that people don't get too carried away. Alan Jones wrote in his wonderful book Sacrifice and Delight: "In some ways the organization of the Church looks as if it has arranged things precisely to see to it that the Spirit is kept in check, to see that nothing happens, least of all the breaking out of delight." Then, he added: "Deadliness has a terrible mystery about it because it is not really dead. It is depressingly alive, the active enemy of delight."
Maybe Sarah denied laughing because she had too many enemies of delight in her life, people who made her believe that laughter did not mix well with maturity. But Sarah has the last laugh. Nine months later, she had the laugh of her life. And that second time, she did not take it back (Genesis 21:6-7)!
Part of the fun in the miracle of Isaac's birth is that it actually happened! 90-year-old Sarah had a baby! Century-old Abraham became a daddy! It really happened! Can you believe it? Every time Sarah thought about it, she laughed. And she laughed even harder as she pictured the expressions on people's faces. She imagined how shocked they would be when they saw her pushing a stroller down Main Street! They would be stunned when they looked in her grocery cart and found diapers and baby powder!
Sarah was so filled with free-flowing laughter about the birth of her child - not her grandchild or great-grandchild - that she did not name the baby Abraham Jr. or any of the names that might have seemed appropriate. She named her first and only child Isaac, which in Hebrew means "laughter."
The stranger is not mentioned in Genesis 21:6-7, but my sense is that, unlike in Genesis 18 where Sarah was the one behind the tent curtain laughing, this time it was God behind the curtain, off-stage in the distance, laughing away.
In Martin & Malcolm & America, James Cone notes the role of laughter in the work of the two great leaders [Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X], and the continuing power of laughter for activism today: "To fight for life is to experience the joy of life. To laugh, to have fun, is to bear witness to life against death. Freedom fighters are fun-loving people. Therefore, let us laugh, let us shout for joy, not as an indication that we are no longer angry but rather as a sign that we have just begun to fight."
Let there be laugher! Laughter is healing to the soul and the body, as the doctors have verified, concurring that it is one of the most potent natural stress relievers. Additionally, there are hundreds of reports verifying the value of laughter for curing illness. Some reports are nothing short of miraculous.
In Laugh After Laugh: The Healing Power of Humor, Dr. Raymond Moody relates the experience of a well-known clown who visited a hospital. While there, the clown noticed a little girl being fed by a nurse. Lying next to the little girl was a doll that looked like the clown. As the clown walked closer to the child, the child said his name. The nurse threw down the spoon and ran off to call the doctor. Why was the nurse so startled? That was the first time the child had spoken in six months. The child progressed daily after that breakthrough.
Dario Fo, one of Italy's great playwrights and clowns, won the 1997 Nobel Prize for literature. When he was first informed of this, he thought it was a big joke. Assured and reassured that it was not, Fo exclaimed, "God is a clown!"
God is a clown. We do not find these exact words in the Scriptures, but we do find these words:
"A happy heart makes the face cheerful." (Proverbs 15:13)
"The cheerful heart has a continual feast." (Proverbs 15:15)
"Everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee." (Isaiah 35:10)
"For I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow." (Jeremiah 31:13)
"I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people." (Luke 2:10)
"Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh." (Luke 6:21)
"Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete." (John 16:24)
"[God] will wipe every tear from their eyes." (Revelation 21:4)
Let there be laughter!
Excerpted from Rest in the Storm: Self-Care Strategies for Clergy and Other Caregivers by Kirk Byron Jones, copyright 2001 by Judson Press, Valley Forge, Penn., www.judsonpress.com, 1-800-4-JUDSON. All rights reserved.
Kirk Byron Jones, D.Min., Ph.D., who has 20 years of pastoral experience at four churches, is assistant professor of Christian ethics at Andover Newton Theological School.
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