Why There’s No Laughter in Lent
Written by: Lisa Kelly
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Sometimes the voice of God comes to me in different voices. That of my spiritual director. That of my husband. That of my fourth grader. Tonight it came to me in the voice of Tom Hanks.
A while back, before Lent, I had the most hysterical prayer experience. Really. Some people pray and speak in tongues. Others receive the gift of tears or wisdom. Me? I receive the gift of laughter.
I was sitting in my typical morning prayer space, chai tea at my side, walking through the steps of presence-ing, openness, and then, in good Ignatian fashion, reading the scripture for the day, placing myself in the scene, using all my senses, almost to the point where I could feel the breeze blowing off the Sea of Galilee as Jesus spoke. The reading was from Mark 5.
The apostles were in need of bread. Jesus was somberly warning them symbolically against seeking bread from the Pharisees. In my prayer I’m standing behind a few of the apostles, when one leans over and whispers to the other quizzically, “What is he talking about???” And the second leans in, and in the most annoyed voice says, “I don’t know. I think he’s pissed we forgot the bread.” At that second Jesus looks right at me and just rolls his eyes and sighs with a smirk and I, sitting in my prayer chair, just doubled over in laughter. Tears are streaming down my face as I read it again. It was better than an SNL skit. They were so utterly human. I could do nothing but laugh deeply at Jesus’ predicament, the straight man to the ignorant Will Ferrell-like apostles. It was such a wonderful gift of prayer.
But just as I sat to write about it, in comes Tom Hanks in the “There’s-no-crying-in-baseball!” voice saying “You’re laughing? You’re laughing? There’s no laughing in Lent!”
I am stopped cold at the keyboard. Seriously? Everything in my nature wants to fight that sentiment—why can’t there be laughter in Lent?
I turn to Ignatius. Teach me.
And there it sits. Note 80 of the Spiritual Exercises. The Eighth addition to Help for Prayer in the First Week: “[I try] not to laugh nor say a thing provocative of laughter.”
As translated by David Fleming, S.J., “I do not try to find occasions to laugh, knowing how often laughter can be the attempt to escape from the uneasiness of a situation.”
Now that’s a serious downer. But once again, I am hit over hit over the head with the Truth.
My desire to write about and fill my prayer with laughter may reflect my uneasiness with the realities that Lent calls me to face: the realities of sin, fear, hatred, suffering, sacrifice, and even death. None of these are a laughing matter. At some point, I have to grapple with them within the world, within myself, seriously. Lent is the Church’s way of making sure we all make some time for that point to happen. Yes, laughter is very much a part of the beautiful human nature that God has created and to not laugh for 40 days seems inhuman to me. I hear the author of Ecclesiastes say there is a time for everything. I trust that this time without laughter holds invitations for my growth. I trust that if I’m willing to make some somber space in my life, not hiding behind the surface laughter or “busyness” that really stems from my insecurities, there is much to be gained from this season.
And before I dive head first into this somber season, I find myself heartened by one thing in particular: I’ve seen this movie before and I know who gets the last laugh!
Photo: “A-maze-ing Laughter” (Used under Creative Commons license)