Lent (Day 11) — more on “Joy is a Gift from God”

Pointing to the Christian message, and to Christ as its messenger, Martin suggests that the message itself is a foolish one (if looked at from the perspective of the world.  Martin points to figures like John XXIII and St. Philip Neri, who were both quite humorous (Neri was often downright silly), and St. Francis of Assisi, who was very much a “fool for Christ.”  A lot of their humor was of a self-deprecating kind, which Martin clearly likes — for self-deprecating humor helps to put one’s companion at ease, and to see past one’s position and see a person instead.  It’s a way of building community, and of encouraging a loving attitude.  In this final part of the chapter, Martin also looks at humor and silliness as part of the Zen tradition, and the Sufi tradition of Islam.  

What is it that humor does?  It short circuits, at least for a time, the censor we have within.  That censor, the agent of our ego [our public selves], is worried about how we look in the world, and feels that humor and silliness diminish our position in the world.  But humor gets around that, breaks through various categories which we build around us and even within us, and offers a moment of “aha,” as well as “haha.”  

Humor also works best in community, and that helps us forget, for a moment, the story we tell ourselves all the time (and which others remind us of a lot of the time) that we are alone, that we are separate, one from the other.  In a room full of people laughing, those boundaries we set (and which we set for others) are temporarily broken down.  For a moment, we can see a different way, one of community and not isolation, of a world of promise and joy and not one of hardship and despair.  I once heard the statement — “the Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.”  The opposite of that would be that we find ourselves overcome with the force of gravity, whether we mean the pull of the earth on our bodies, or we take ourselves too seriously.  

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