Saturday, October 20, 2007

Worship in Laughter and in Truth - Arends

I have a confession to make. Recently, I threw out three boxes worth of my kids’ Sunday School crafts. I felt heartless and vaguely evil. But really, one can only store so much fun foam in a single house.

Though I tried to be ruthless, there was one piece of art I was compelled to rescue from the recycle bin. My daughter made it in 2004, when she was three.

Bethany was excited the day she brought her “worship” craft home from church. It had involved cutting out and colouring pre-supplied pictures of children engaged in four different acts of worship, and then gluing those pictures onto the sheet. (OK, that’s not much of a craft, but she was three. You were expecting decoupage?)

She was particularly proud of this assignment because of the gluing part. Bethany really, really, really likes to glue things. I think she may have a future in adhesives.

After I had finished acknowledging the excellence of the glue-work, I asked Bethany to tell me what each of the pictures represented. “Praying” she said, when I pointed to the little girl with her hands folded. “Giving,” she said when I pointed to the boy putting coins in an offering plate. “Reading,” she shouted when I pointed to the girl with a Bible.

I saved the best picture for last – the little boy with his mouth open wide in song. Singing is my favourite form of worship. I knew it would be Bethany’s too, what with her mother being a singer and all.

“Laughing,” said Bethany, when I pointed to the boy with the open mouth.

I stand corrected. Laughing is my favourite form of worship.

I never really thought about it before, but laughter is a bit of an obsession with me. I’ve been unconsciously backing up a Laughter-As-Worship theory for a while now, collecting various quotes on the matter. I was recently compelled to stop reading Anne Lammot’s Plan B long enough to shout a Super-Bowlian “YES!” (complete with fist-pump) and scribble this line from the book on an airplane napkin: “Laughter is carbonated holiness.” I’ve always agreed with e.e. cumming’s proclamation that “The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.” And anyone who knows much about me will know why I give a hearty amen to this bit of wisdom from Woody Allen: “I am thankful for laughter, except when milk comes out of my nose.” (In my case, there was an unfortunate incident involving Diet Coke, and the memory of it gives the “laughter is carbonated holiness” idea a certain poignancy.)

Recently our neighbourhood association asked families to purchase commemorative paving tiles as a fund-raiser for the construction of a water park. They suggested that each family supply their names and a favourite quote to be engraved on the soon-to-be-splashed-upon chunks of cement. We debated, agonized, and nearly despaired of finding just the right saying, until in the nick of time one of us remembered this from Karl Barth: “Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God.”

Of course Barth had to have meant the good kind of laughter – the kind borne from joy or relief or gratitude or the sweet surprise of community. (“I've always thought that a big laugh is a really loud noise from the soul saying, ‘Ain't that the truth,’” says Quincy Jones.) There is also derisive laughter – the kind borne from pettiness or vulgarity (which is different than earthiness) or cruelty. But that is something else altogether. It’s not hard to tell the redemptive kind – the laughter that is, I believe, reflexive, even involuntary worship – from the destructive kind. (“If you like a man's laugh before you know anything of him, you may say with confidence that he is a good man,” said Fyodor Dostoevsky.)

A good laugh is a release – even if only for a moment – from worry, from strife, from self. It is an abandonment, a cleansing, an affirmation. It is a sudden, often unbidden, confession that someway, somehow, all is well, or at least there is a hope that it can be.

I think it’s telling that we talk about “gales” of laughter. We instinctively recognize that laughter belongs to the world of wind, or Spirit – unexpected joy arrives on the gust of a fresh current and carries us to a different place than the one it found us in. And that is why I suspect that Lamott is right – that laughter is holiness, that it is part of the life of God, and that to laugh from your belly is to worship the Giver of all good gifts.

The Trinitarian theologians use the word “Perichoresis” to describe the mutual indwelling – the happy fellowship – of the Father, Son and Spirit. That relationship is often pictured as a tireless and joyful divine dance. I can’t think about that holy dance without remembering certain dances that have been known to take place in our family room. (For Shy-Repressed-Reserved-Uncoordinated-Canadian-Baptists, we can really cut a rug.) When our kids were toddlers, Mark and I would twirl and spin and dosado them until they were helpless with laughter so hard it was soundless, and then we would laugh at them laughing until we were all worn out with gladness. If we’d have thought of it, we could have quoted the Psalmist as we held our aching sides on the family room floor. “Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. … The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.” (Ps 126:2-3)

It’s serious business, laughter. It’s the kind of sacrifice of praise that puts our insides right. The old clichĂ© is true – laughter is a medicine that reminds us that our sickness will one day be healed and we shall be whole and holy.

We’re not given many specifics about the Other Side, but I am convinced of two things. First, there will undoubtedly be special rewards for Sunday School teachers. These prizes will be awarded according to a “craft index” that recognizes the total number of crafts an individual has had to come up with per years lived. Second, I’m quite certain that in the Father’s house, there will be laughter. It will be deep and delightful, and in abundant supply.

Until then, laughter is the Elmer’s Glue that attaches us to the Goodness that inhabits this world, and to the Gladness that hints at the world to come. Drop by sometime, and I’ll show you the sticky, dog-eared craft that proves it.


Deborah Gyapong said...

Awesome post! Great writing!
Thanks for the laughs and the uplifting message.

Now I need to burp some of this carbonated holiness.


violet said...

Great post! I am so your fan (ask i-tunes).

Marci said...

Yes, delightful, Carolyn. And I think we can add another dimension to the many facets of laughter - it literally saved my life once.
Bless you. Marcia

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