We take ourselves too seriously. In the end, we are too pompous about our projects, causes, ideologies, and enthusiasms. This is not to deny that, in the world and in the church, there are real pains and that these call us to put our blood on the line. However, we are also called upon, always, even as we are putting our blood on the line, to keep a sense of proportion, to keep things in perspective. This implies that we keep our sense of humor.
Humor is perhaps the quality that is most absent in the church today. We are pathologically serious. The church is full of anger, polarization, hypersensitivity, and poisonous bitterness. It has reached a point where we dare not laugh at anything lest somebody or some group be deeply offended. We live in a world and in a church that have made a spirituality out of somberness, humorlessness, anger, and hyper-sensitivity.
This is an infallible sign of a loss of health and a loss of a healthy self-love. A healthy self-love includes, always, a healthy self-criticism and a healthy ability to laugh at oneself and to see one’s own pompousness.
Humor is the mark of contemplativeness. Contemplativeness sees things in perspective: they see irony because they see the transcendence of the human spirit in every situation, irrespective of how painful that situation is. Contemplatives laugh a lot. One such, Thomas More, told a joke to his executioner just before having his head cut off. The lack of humor in the church today is a sure sign of the death of contemplation, of a tragic narrowing of perspective, of the loss of a healthy sense of proportion, and of a subtle creeping narcissism which mistakes self-righteousness for God’s righteousness. Today we are so somber and angry because, in the end, we are not contemplative enough to have a sense of the transcendence of our own spirits within the limitations of our own situations. Our spirits are down because we are too tied to the immediate situation. When we’ve stopped laughing we’ve also stopped praying.
Soren Kierkegaard once wrote: “Something wonderful has happened to me. I was caught up into the seventh heaven. There sat the heavenly assembly. By special grace, I was granted the privilege of making a wish. ‘Wilt thou,’ said God, ‘have youth or beauty or power or a long life or the most beautiful maiden or any of the other glories we have in the chest? Choose, but only one thing.’
“For a moment I was at a loss. Then I addressed myself to them as follows: ‘Most honorable contemporaries, I choose this one thing, that I may always have the laugh on my side.’
“Not one of the heavenly assembly said a word; on the contrary, they all began to laugh. From that I concluded that my wish had been granted, and I found that the heavenly assembly knew how to express themselves with taste; for it would hardly have been suitable to have answered gravely, ‘Thy wish be granted.’
So that the laugh may remain on our side – and so that we may retain a healthy self-criticism and self-love, I propose a few readings for those long winter nights:
For those who like biography, I recommend, My Way, the Autobiography of John Paul II. In the area of Ecclesiology, there is a new encyclical on authority: Soc et Tuum, as well as a fine new book entitled, Conflict Management, by Rev. Michael Tyson.
In the area of spirituality is your interest, I recommend: Slain, Stay’in, and Pray’in, an indepth look at the phenomenon of being slain in the spirit. It contains an excellent chapter on how to lengthen your prayer meetings. For priests and sisters there is a new book on celibacy (from Third Way Press) entitled: Virgin/Martyr – Is this title Redundant? For the more piously inclined, there is The Hidden Life of St. Joseph, which finally attempts to answer the question as to why he is always dressed in brown.
In the area of feminist theology, I recommend, from Equality Press, a work on the Trinity: Creator/ess, God/ess, Father-Mother, Redeemer-Spirit, by Emma Emmacho. For religious educators, there is a fine new book with all kinds of suggestions on making your classroom more manageable. It is very practically entitled, Lithium and the Hyperactive Student: There is a Solution.
For pastors and pastoral teams there is an excellent series of essays which has been collected and published under the title: The Process is Worthwhile. This book contains an excellent analysis of the distinction between mission, priorities, goals, aims, and strategies, as well as creative suggestions as to what to do at coffee breaks.
Finally, there are two works which are a must for everyone, especially neophytes in the faith and those in RCIA programs. I am speaking of course of the recent translation from the German of the classic: Hermeneutical Imperatives Contained in the Inceptive Aorist Usage as Found in the Apocrypha and the Pseudo-Dead Sea Scrolls. As well, there is the recent Towards an Hermeneutical Disciplined and Differentiated Consciousness – A comparison of Heidegger, Gadamer, and Lonergan. These works are a must for beginners.
Enjoy your long winter evenings!
Fyodor Dostoyevski once commented: “The cleverest of all, in my opinion, is the person who calls himself a fool at least once a month – nowadays an unheard-of talent. Formerly a fool recognized once a year at the very least that he was a fool, but not now.” (Bobok, Page 166)
I suspect I will be called a fool for writing this. It will be taken as a compliment!