A minister walks into a bar with a rabbi and a Muslim … nope, it’s not a joke but it is about laughter. “I’m America’s only comedienne with a pulpit,” says Susan Sparks, an ex-lawyer turned standup comedian and minister who sometimes tours the country as part of an inter-faith comedy act. Her new book, "Laugh Your Way to Grace: Reclaiming the Spiritual Power of Humor" is a refreshing and down-right humorous take on religion, spirituality and just plain making sense of the world. Sparks one true thing: God really does have a sense of humor.
Sparks came to this philosophy after spending ten years in a job where there wasn’t a whole lot to laugh about: a trial attorney for financial institutions. “I had felt a call to the ministry for some time, but was unsure how a comedian would ever fit into organized religion,” she says. “I decided to travel around the world hoping to find some--okay, any--kindred spirits.”
Sparks traveled for two years doing everything from working for Mother Theresa and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to driving her Jeep from NYC to Alaska. Everywhere she went, she found examples of how comedy was part of the Holy. Her first big “aha” moment was while working for Mother Theresa in India. “One day I was encountered a little girl who had been blind and deaf since birth. Her favorite thing was to laugh, then put her head against you to feel the vibrations of your laughter in response. It was that moment I realized that laughter was truly holy,” she recalls. “I was overwhelmed by this feeling of joy and love that we shared; it felt like an epiphany there are no words for. It felt like grace.”
In her book Sparks tells of sharing jokes with Buddhist monks and watching the Sacred Clowns of the Navajo, but it’s not all about laughs. When she climbed Kilimanjaro, she became so ill she doubted she’d make it to the top. But being ill forced her to not just smell the flowers but really examine them. “So often, we rush through life,” she says. “Clearly, this was God’s way of forcing me to slow down. By the time I did make it to the summit, I had an entirely new perspective on the life.”
Sparks went back to New York and graduated from Union Theological Seminary in 2003, where the title of her thesis was: Humor and the Sacred: Laughing Your Way to Grace. Since then, she’s spent her Saturday nights on-stage in smoky comedy clubs and her Sunday mornings behind a pulpit as pastor at the Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City (the first woman pastor in its 160-year history).
“Transformation--whether you’re talking about religion or any other aspect of life--isn’t so much about changing, but rather about taking the leap of faith to embrace who you are and what’s in your heart,” Sparks says. “There’s bound to be some trial and error. Along the way, we all make mistakes. That’s where both humor and grace can help us to let go, move on, and have the faith to try again.”
For more information about Reverend Susan Sparks, visit her web site at www.susansparks.com.