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    Holy Laughter

    Benedict and Bernard may have disapproved of humor, but I’d argue that Christians should not take themselves so seriously.

    By Richard J. Foster

    November 20, 2022
    • Lawrence

      Apropos Holy Humor and “At times he simply cannot stop laughing or hide his empty-headed merriment..... I heard froma wise man once that if you can laugh from deep down, you can not similtaueously think. Thus, there is no calculation, no sophistry, no wink or nudge. For me, laughing is a wished for must.

    • Christine Lefebvre

      Humor may indeed be the element most responsible for preventing our descent into civil war. I’ve noticed that many thoughtful conservatives, and even some thoughtful liberals, resort to humor rather than outrage, when confronted by the idiotic injustices being perpetrated against us. It gives breathing room to those who are working diligently, usually behind the scenes, to overcome those injustices.

    I am reflecting on the distinguishing features of those who are characterized through and through by humility of heart. As I watch and consider such folk, three things always seem to stand out: freedom, joy, and holy hilarity.

    Freedom. I’m thinking of things such as freedom from always needing to speak up and straighten out everyone on this issue or on that matter. The freedom to be genuinely happy when others succeed. The freedom from the perennial urge to control or manage others.

    Joy. I’m thinking of that deep, heart-felt joy in the goodness of God. Joy that the power of the Lord is overall. Joy that I can trust those I love in the care of God.

    Holy hilarity. It seems to me that humble folk laugh a lot. Somehow they can easily see the comedy that the twists and turns (of) ordinary life brings us. Not the boisterous laughter that is at the expense of others. No, I mean joyful laughter at the quandaries that come to us almost daily. Laughing is the other side of weeping, and those soaked in humility are able to do both freely.

    I do want to take strong exception to one matter that both Benedict and Bernard refer to … namely the issue of humor. From the language that is used I think we can safely assume that both disapprove of it … strongly so. Benedict says, “The tenth step of humility is that he is not given to ready laughter.” And Bernard in his descending steps of pride comments on the danger of laughter: “At times he simply cannot stop laughing or hide his empty-headed merriment. He is like a well-filled bladder that has been pricked and squeezed. The air, not finding a free vent, whistles out through the little hole with squeak after squeak.”

    I know, I know, humor can be overdone. Indeed, in certain forms it can be used as a weapon to attack, demean, or destroy. And perhaps both Benedict and Bernard are merely dealing with the ways humor can become a distraction to a focused life with God.

    However, I’d like to submit a minority report on behalf of good-hearted laughter. Humor, offered in love, can help build community life. Frankly, an occupational hazard of religious folk is to become stuffy bores. And humor helps to undercut this danger by stoutly refusing to allow us to take ourselves too seriously. It is a grace when we can laugh at our gaffes and foibles. Humor helps us welcome the unexpected and the unpredictable, to relish the ridiculous and the absurd. We don’t need to create a huge chasm between prayer and playfulness.

    I rather like the observation of Thomas Kelly when, poking a bit of fun at his own tradition, he wrote, “I’d rather be jolly Saint Francis hymning his canticle to the sun than a dour old sobersides Quaker whose diet would appear to have been spiritual persimmons.” Well, enough said!

    From Richard J. Foster, Learning Humility: A Year of Searching for a Vanishing Virtue (InterVarsity Press, 2022). Used by permission.

    Contributed By RichardFoster Richard J. Foster

    Richard J. Foster is the founder of Renovaré, an ecumical Christian community, and the author of several books including A Celebration of Discipline (Harper San Francisco, 1988).

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