“Did you hear the one about Noah?”
“A rabbi, a priest and a Buddhist monk were all in a life raft…”
“So, three nuns were driving down the road…”
When we speak of humor and the sacred, our minds go immediately to Noah jokes and nun puns. However, the combination radiates far beyond the realm of punch lines. The theologian Conrad Hyers once said, “Faith without laughter leads to dogma and laughter without faith to despair.” It is in these words that we begin to see a tiny glimmer of the power a merger of prayers and punch lines can bring.
On its most basic level, humor is a gift we share with our creator. Genesis says we were made in the image of the divine. Since human beings have the gift of laughter, then we know at least some aspect of the divine is also joy and laughter. Yet when we try to commune with God, we tend to check this gift of humor like we check our coats. In order to be healed, we have to offer all the pieces: the anger, the tears, the fear and the laughter – it’s all holy.
Humor also offers us perspective on the stress of our daily lives. As Charlie Chaplin said, “Life in the close-up is a tragedy, but life in the longshot is a comedy.” The ability to step back and laugh at ourselves can help reduce stress by reminding us that we are only human.
It also helps us build bridges with others. For example, honoring one’s neighbor is a universal ethic in most of the major faith traditions. But what if your neighbor is a telemarketer? Humor is the bridge to such human understanding. When you laugh with someone, whether it is a stranger, a friend, a lover or an enemy, your worlds overlap for a tiny, but significant moment. It is then that defenses are lowered, ideas and feelings are shared and the best in each other gleams forth. Bottom line? If you can laugh at yourself, you can forgive yourself; and if you can forgive yourself, you can forgive others.
Humor and the sacred clearly provide fertile ground for entertainment. But the two also generate a deeper, more universal power that often goes unnoticed. Allow space for laughter in prayer, consider the possibility of humor in scripture or spiritual teachings, meditate on a God who smiles. A deeper spiritual place awaits us all when we allow prayers and punch lines to unite.