What will be the extent of a man’s life he does not know—in what time or place he will come to an end is not given to him to know. The wise man, therefore, lives his life seriously each day but does not take it seriously.
— Howard Thurman, The Inward Journey
She is originally from Ohio and he is from Iowa. She is an enthusiastic Buckeye fan (Ohio State), and he is a fervent Hawkeye fan (University of Iowa). As their young son Ivan was preparing for kindergarten one morning, he wondered, “When I grow up am I going to be a Hawkeye or a Buckeye?” His mother wisely replied, “Ivan, when you grow up you can be anything you want to be.” “Good,” he exclaimed, “Then I’m going to be a porcupine!”
Did this true story about Ivan bring a smile to your face? At least an inner smile about children’s perceptions and the surprise endings to their questions? Ivan is a child. His imagination is still relatively unencumbered with structural limitations. Some of us adults, on the other hand, find it difficult to use our imagination or to think outside the box. As we age, it can be more difficult to fully engage in humor events. We can lose our childlike wonder.
Our ability to laugh, to be joyful, and to participate in humor events is not random. Certain people are endowed with a genetic mix that predisposes them to be resilient and light-hearted, while others tend to be dourer and more serious, less resilient. Apart from genetics, we were each raised in a particular environment that contributed to our understanding of humor, play, celebration, and the appropriate use of laughter. Studies have shown that individual attitudes toward laughter, humor, and playfulness can range from nearly humorless to ebullient.
Have you ever considered whether God has a sense of humor? Could your interaction with the Divine benefit from a touch of humor, or a lighthearted approach?
Though many of us adopt a more relaxed understanding of God as we age, we still tend to approach Yahweh with a certain measure of awe, reverence, devotion, and ceremony. When we approach the Creator, we understand that we are on sacred ground. We are reminded that we must be reverent, attentive, tuned in, careful, and respectful—all the ways we have been taught to approach God.
What prevents us from taking a more lighthearted approach, as Tevya did in Fiddler on the Roof when he says, “I know, I know. We are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?”
For several decades I have been interested in the role of humor in health. Over time, I also became curious about the role of humor in spirituality. (I was encouraged in this exploration by an excellent book by Fr. James Martin, Between Heaven and Mirth.)
My recent journey into the arena of humor and spirituality involved a four-month stay at the Collegeville Institute in Minnesota, which is affiliated with a Benedictine monastery. I had the privilege of interviewing 23 monks (and 13 sisters at a neighboring Benedictine monastery) regarding their own spiritual practices. I asked, “Do you ever approach the Divine with a sense of humor?” and, “Do you think God has a sense of humor?”
Out of 37 monks and sisters, 36 were able to affirm that in their experience, God does have a sense of humor, playfulness, or delight. Many recounted stories of how God (or Spirit) had encouraged humor in approaching one’s spirituality. This humor was seen in action in homilies, in surprise reversals, in the celebration of relationship, and in speaking out loud to the Maker.
My personal approach to meditation often takes the form of walking meditation. I live near a beautiful lake that is circled by a gentle walking path. Often I find myself talking out loud to my Creator. It could be something as simple as, “You know, God, I have this decision to make and you know all things, and you certainly promise to accept me as your beloved child, so would you kindly give me some insight into how to make this decision? I’m not fussy about the shape or manner in which you send this information, but I would be delighted if you would kindly help me out here!”
I believe that there are times when it is good and appropriate to lighten up a little and to not take life too seriously—even in our approach to God.