By Trish Patrick in Articles

the role of humour and laughter in the God-filled life

Who doesn't love hearing babies laugh? It's delightful when they laugh so heartily, they lose their balance and topple over... I defy anyone watching not to, at least, raise a smile. We used to live opposite a playground, and it was lovely hearing the kids playing and laughing together. Although I must confess, whenever I heard our own kids laughing hysterically, my heart would sink as I hastened to investigate the cause of such mirth. Invariably, it involved some creative, if questionable 'scientific' experiment, requiring a major mop up, or some death-defying exploit like climbing out a dormer window of their second story bedroom so they could scramble down the roof. Not sure what was wrong with using the door! Or jumping off the garage roof in batman outfits complete with umbrellas to 'slow their descent!'
For our extended family, humour has always been a dominant feature, and 'cry-laughing' not uncommon. It so happens we all laugh at the same sort of things and situations. At family gatherings a word or phrase will trigger some hilarious family memory (often at some hapless member's expense) which sparks other memories, and so on. The littlest ones have been a constant source of enjoyment as we watched them develop their own sense of humour.
It's not that anyone's trying to be funny, or that difficult life situations don't take their toll, (we fall far short of being the model family) but gentle humour can be a buffer when things go wrong. This experience will be familiar to many.
A sense of humour is a complex attribute most human beings are blessed with in some form or other. A 'sense of the ridiculous’ can turn frustrating situations into a source of wry humour. However, one must keep in mind that not all are afflicted with this quirk, so it's wise to moderate one's response in such a situation! This I learned VERY early in life.
Humour can inflame or defuse interpersonal, community, and political situations but used perceptively and wisely, can be a useful tool. It can be used to alert us to potentially damaging or dangerous situations when other methods fail. Dark humour can be a safety valve for people who work in high stress jobs eg First Responders...Fire and Ambulance, Police, Doctors, nurses etc.
Humour is 'big business' in the Entertainment Industry. Stand-Up, TV programmes, film, theatre all provide potential for making vast sums of money. Comedians strive to become household names. Some successful, others, not so much. It's a curious yet sad fact that a number of comedy personalities have met untimely deaths, even when madly successful.
A sad irony. Humour cannot always penetrate the darkness of life experience.
For those who live on the margins, humour might be perceived as a luxury; for those living in war-torn countries where simply staying alive is a daily achievement, the human spirit, buoyed by good humour survives in spite of chaos. It never ceases to amaze and impress me when beleaguered people struggling to survive, manage to smile and laugh in spite of appalling conditions.

Sacred writings are not generally known for their hilarity or even wry humour. The story of Jonah providing dinner for a big fish could have potential for comedy (except if you're Jonah!!) The 'vomiting' scene could be quite hilarious (except if you're the big fish).
I think Jesus had a healthy sense of the ridiculous. His parables suggest this in his use of exageration eg..A Camel making its way through the eye of a needle.
I have read this expression... 'eye of a needle' explained as 'a small aperture' in the town wall through which small goods may be passed. This may be true but god forbid we interpret or understand these pearls of wisdom as the old testament authors or Jesus simply being funny! Nor do I believe the disciples didn't have some hilarious moments with Jesus while chatting around a fire at night. I bet they had some 'cry-laughing', falling about moments from time to time. Just because it isn't recorded doesn't mean it didn't happen.
Having said all that, like everything good, humour can have its negative side. Used thoughtlessly or with malicious intent, it can wound and diminish.
However, humour used appropriately is life affirming, defusing tricky situations, breaking down barriers. Science tells us that when we laugh endorphins are released into the blood stream, reducing pain levels, reducing heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and elevating mood, to name a few benefits.
We, as a faith community possess 'the attributes' for good humour. I do not suggest we 'swing from the rafters', I mean a gentle lightness of spirit, making room for difference, respecting 'other', allowing good humour to filter through the life of the community, no one taking themselves too seriously. A medley of love, faith, hope, wisdom, and a generous dollop of pragmatism all...'spiced with humour, and laced with laughter, flavour of the Jesus life, tang of risk and new adventure, taste and zeal beyond belief.' (Shirley Murray)
A recipe for 'finding good in everyone, finding God in everyone'.
As human beings, it is inevitable we attribute to God human characteristics both good and bad, albeit of divine magnitude. If these attributions include a sense of humour, and why not, then God must surely have the capacity for a divinely colossal, cosmic comedic bent. Hmmm...that sounds like a heap of fun!!!
Trish Patrick.