Tag Archives: laughter

July 12, Readings from Mary Webb, XX: Hunger

modeltrainNot for the dear things said do I weep now;
Not for your deeds of quiet love and duty
Does my heart freeze and starve since you endow
Cold death with beauty.

Just for the look of utter comprehension;
The dear gay laugh that only true hearts know;
For these I would from life’s severe detention
Arise and go.

According to Stanford University’s Mary Webb archive, this poem grew out of grief for her late father. Her own sorrows and trials were to follow.

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May 11: The Best Medicine? ask the Irish Chaplaincy.

Another posting from Eddie at the Irish Chaplaincy.


Eddie Gilmore

Eddie Gilmore

When coming away from my regular visit to one of our Irish Chaplaincy Seniors I was reflecting on how uplifted I felt and how it had to do, in part, by how much we had laughed during the visit. This particular lady is only in her 70s but has fairly advanced dementia, and her sister moved over from Ireland to stay in the one-bedroom flat as a live-in carer. It’s a challenging situation but we always regale one another with funny stories, and we hoot with laughter.

I’ve been enjoying a book by James Martin, the American Jesuit, called ‘Between Heaven and Mirth’ with the sub-title ‘Why joy, humour and laughter are at the heart of the spiritual life’. He speaks of the importance of humour, especially in religious settings, which can easily become terribly serious and joyless. I imagine, sadly, that there are many people who might consider laughter to be incompatible with church or religion. And I was interested to see in a recent survey in the Church of England that people didn’t want their priests to be cracking lots of jokes in their sermons! It’s true that humour doesn’t really come across in the gospels. I fear this is a case of jokes getting lost in translation (besides the notion that religion is a ‘serious business’) because I like to think that the stories of Jesus were filled with humour and hilarity, and that he liked nothing better than to have a good laugh with some of the dodgy characters he hung out with.

I still remember the words of my dear friend Tony (and the jokes he told) in his best man speech at my wedding. He reminded us that the words ‘humour’, ‘humility’ and ‘human’ all come from the Latin word ‘humus’ which means earth and ground, so that when we laugh we are connected in a particular way with the ground we walk upon and with those we walk with. It could be said indeed that a sure sign of a growing connection and intimacy with another person is the ability to laugh together. Physiologically, as well, it’s healthy for us to laugh. A good, hearty laugh can relieve physical tension and stress and leave the muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes. It boosts the immune system, decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, therefore improving resistance to disease. It also reduces blood pressure and releases endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers. Laughter is almost as good for the body as going to the gym! And it doesn’t cost a penny in membership! I remember at one time somebody in the NHS having the idea to send comedians into hospitals to help patients to laugh but sadly it doesn’t seem to have caught on.

And talking of funny people, I was tickled to hear what happened when John Cleese met the Dalai Lama. They didn’t say a word to one another but simply broke into spontaneous and prolonged laughter! James Martin tells us in his book that the Trappist monk and prolific spiritual writer Thomas Merton could be identified by visitors to his monastery in Kentucky (at a time, in the 1960s, when there were 200 monks there) because he was the one who was always laughing. And one of the many nice stories in the book concerns Mother Theresa from the time when John Paul II was pope and creating loads of new saints. A young sister asked what she would have to do in her life to achieve sainthood. Mother Theresa replied “die now; this pope’s canonising everyone”!

This season of Lent is perhaps not readily associated with fun and frivolity. Yet, in the scripture readings from Ash Wednesday at the beginning of Lent we have Jesus warning us (Matthew 6) not to look miserable when we fast; and we are reminded of the words from Isaiah 58 of the kind of fast that is pleasing to God:

“Let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke;

Share your bread with the hungry, and shelter the homeless poor”

And I would add, try and have a bit of a laugh with people as well. It’s one of the things that most profoundly binds us together in our common humanity.

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15 February. Little Flowers XLVII: Brother Ruffino 4, the beautiful sermon.

 

chris-preaching

Of the beautiful sermon preached in Assisi by Saint Francis and Brother Ruffino

Brother Ruffino, through continual contemplation, was so absorbed in God, that he became as it were insensible and dumb, spake but seldom, and therewithal had neither the gift of preaching, nor boldness nor eloquence therein; nevertheless Saint Francis on a time bade him go to Assisi and preach to the people whatsoever God might inspire him withal. Wherefore Brother Ruffino answered: ‘Reverend father, I pray thee pardon me and send me not; for, as thou knowest, I have not the gift of preaching, but am simple and ignorant.’

Then quoth Saint Francis: “Seeing that thou hast not obeyed incontinent, I command thee by holy obedience that thou get thee to Assisi naked as thou wast born, save in thy breeches only, and enter into a church and preach unto the people.” At this command, the said Brother Ruffino stripped himself and went to Assisi and entered into a church, and having done reverence to the altar went up into the pulpit and began to preach; for the which cause the children and the men began to laugh, and said: “Now look you how these fellows do so much penance that they become fools and are beside themselves.”

Meantime, Saint Francis, bethinking him of the ready obedience of Brother Ruffino, the which was one of the most noble gentlemen of Assisi, and of the hard commandment he had laid upon him, began to chide himself, saying : Whence comes to thee such boldness, thou son of Peter Bernardoni, vile wretch, to command Brother Ruffino, that is one of the most noble gentlemen of Assisi, to go and preach to the people like a madman? By God, thou shalt have proof in thine own self of what thou biddest others do.” And straightway in fervour of spirit he stripped himself in like fashion, and set out for Assisi, and took with him Brother Leo to carry his habit and that of Brother Ruffino.

Brother Chris sent us this image of himself preaching, modestly.

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October 25, May we find Christ walking with us: II. On the way to church.

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walking together – a chapel lies just over the hill

 

Sometimes we meet up with a friend on the way to Church for Mass. She tends to be bursting to tell us about her past week and her hopes for the week to come. On the way home she helps carry the food bank donations to be taken to the depot later in the week.

Listening to her talk about work, family and friends, and sharing our news; not the sort of preparation for Mass that would have been approved by those who taught me in primary school. As Christopher Chapman said on May 13, ‘The Christianity many of us grew up with was not big on laughs.’ But fellowship is part of the story; not just being in a big room together, performing the same actions, mouthing the same words, for an hour once a week.

In fact, here and now, fellowship is the story for all the other hours in the week. I may be sitting here alone, miss-typing this post; you may be in your armchair, on the train to work, scrolling through your messages. But together, even at a distance of time and space.

When we get to Church we are together with writers from two or three thousand years ago, as we can be in front of our screens with Bible Gateway and other sites. But that is to bring us together with the Eternal, in eternity. Listening to our friend talk about work, family and friends, and sharing our news as we walk; that is the sort of preparation for Mass that makes sense to me. Did not the Lord walk with Cleophas and his companion, talking of their news, hopes and fears, before they finally knew him in the breaking of bread?

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July 5th, Readings from Mary Webb, IV: Let us dare to be merely receptive.

stars.constantina

Mary Webb’s illness caused swellings, which eventually distorted her face. But:

There are many to whom all beauty seems denied; they hunger for it dumbly, unconsciously. Is their life to be a stricken tree, colourless and silent? Surely not. The flawless forms and colours of nature are an especial consolation to those who are oppressed by that dark tragedy, deformity of body or unloveliness of face. How deep is the desolation, when a sad soul looks out anxiously, through eyes that cannot reflect its beauty, watching for an answering smile, and meeting only a look of swiftly concealed repulsion! Startled and ill at ease in the ruinous mortal dwelling, reminded of it continually, this soul leads a life of torture. I saw one of these look from her windows and weep bitterly, finding no comfort. Then a voice came in the long sigh of the dawn breeze:–

“I know, inhabitant of eternity, how strait and comfortless your home is. Go out into my garden and forget. The skies are clear; see where I lead out my sidereal flocks! The tall young larches are dreaming of green; there is moonlight in the primrose woods. There is a fit dwelling for you; go, and be at peace.”

She rose and went, and her laugh came back upon the wind. The leaves do not hesitate to finger and kiss any face, however marred, that looks up into their dwelling. No distortion of body frightens the birds, if the heart within loves them.

speedwell

One flower of germander speedwell may be the magic robe that clothes us with the beauty of earth. It has the same strength of structure, wonder of tint and mystery of shadow as all natural things. Awakened by its minute perfection, the mind … realises that nature’s beauty can never be perfectly grasped.

Ceasing for a time to question and strive, let us dare to be merely receptive.

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July 4, readings from Mary Webb, III: Feel the Zest.

grow.wild (800x664)

When participation in man’s keen life is denied, it is not strange if laughter dies. In the sirocco of pain it is not surprising if joy and faith are carried away.

So many sit by the wayside begging, unconscious that the great Giver is continually passing down the highways and hedges of nature, where each weed is wonderful. So many are blind and hopeless, yet they have only to desire vision, and they will see that through His coming the thickets are quickened into leaf and touched with glory.

samaritanwoman

Out in this world the spirit that was so desolate, lost in the strange atmosphere of physical inferiority, may once more feel the zest that he thought was gone for ever. And this zest is health: sweeping into the mind and into those recesses of being beyond the conscious self, it overflows into the body. Very often this great rush of joy, this drinking of the freshets of the divine, brings back perfect health. Even in diseases that are at present called incurable, and that are purely physical, no one will deny the immense alleviation resulting from this new life.

Zest – the grated rind of lemon or orange – is a small ingredient with a big punch. Let’s use our imaginations when our friends are ill. A letter can be put by till they are ready to read it, but it may be read many times; a picture postcard can be propped by the bedside; a visit of a few minutes may bring a rush of joy; as might sitting outside with a friend. Mary Webb had been there, and her disease was called incurable.

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13 May: Time to have fun

herefords

The Christianity many of us grew up with was not big on laughs. My childhood parish priest seemed determined to make sure we were suitably miserable. Fun was equated with self-indulgence – all too likely to carry us away into the path of sin. The eleventh commandment was ‘Thou shalt not laugh, nor enjoy thyself’.

The hangover of that upbringing is that I have sometimes struggled to allow myself to enjoy life. The notion that God is a spoiler is not one I adhere to rationally but somewhere inside that image of God must linger. And yet when I remember some of the moments of deep fun that I have known I see how they abound with love, friendship, wonder, energy, and liberation: and as I put themselves back into those times I sense the presence, joy and life of God.

  • Sledging down the snow covered slopes of Greenwich Park while the ambulances circled below
  • Playing foot ball with my nephews in a muddy field
  • Losing myself in working with clay and not minding too much what shape I came up with
  • Making music with a group using my three and a half chords on a guitar
  • Going swimming on the spur of the moment with my sister in West Wales
  • Being thrown around at a barn dance without really having much clue what steps I was supposed to be making.

What moments do you remember?

Fun can have its downsides. Making fun of another at their expense is destructive. Thrill seeking can be addictive and self-centred. But these are perversions of what is essentially good and of God.

It is through fun that we lose our self-consciousness and allow ourselves to run free.

Walls of polite distance or even hostility between people evaporate in shared laughter.

Bonds of friendship are forged.

We stop taking ourselves too seriously – as if everything depended on our performance

We discover that we are creative after all – and all we needed was the opportunity and the courage to dare to express ourselves.

We delight in life, in the company of those with us and are completely held in the moment, putting aside our fears and preoccupations.

These are good moments, God moments.

In our churches and within our neighbourhoods,

in our tired lives, and amidst our difficulties

it is time to have fun!

CC.

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February 21: Inter-galactic Discoveries XXIV, It’s cold outside.

 

It was cold, too cold for pseudo-Chihuahuas to do more than put their noses outside the door but they were enjoying people watching from the bay window.

 

‘Look down there! It’s little Abel on the sands. What is he doing?’ Alfie was half wrapped in his blanket which had become a shared blanket, as so much was shared, freely, by the Ossyrians in dogs’ clothing, almost without their realising it was happening.

T got out his binoculars and soon focussed on the toddler, clad in blue wellington boots and a warm all-in-one suit. ‘Very interesting. We should go join them.’

‘But what is he doing?’ demanded Ajax, who could read the amusement shaking T’s shoulders, but not the reason for it.

‘Come and see,’ said T, shaking the dog leads, and off they went, past the Waste Land shelter and along the prom. Just by the Jubilee Clock, the dogs yanked their leads from T’s hand, turned tail with one accord and refused to go on to greet Will, Abel and his mother. T had to follow. When something made Will look up he just caught a glimpse of the dogs mounting the steps to their front door, with the Director some yards in the rear. He did not realise they were avoiding Abel, and T never told him.

Indoors, Alfie shivered: ‘Abel was wading about in that cold water at the edge of the sea and splashing rocks and laughing! I’ll never understand humans. He was enjoying it and his mother and Will were letting him do it, and they were laughing too.’

‘They can’t help sharing his fun, and they aren’t the sort to stop him doing it completely. Sun, Sand and Sea. That’s why we came to Margate.’

‘But not Sun, Sand, Sea and Splash!’ grumbled Alfie.

‘Lighten up boys,’ said T. ‘Laughter is part of being human. Why the wife of Abraham, mother of the great religions, even laughed at God and called her son ‘laughter’ or Isaac. But I don’t think the humans totally understand it themselves.’

margatesunset-21-1-17

Sunset over T and Alfie and Ajax’s house, Margate, January 2017.

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22 November: Inter-Galactic Discoveries: XV The Sands of the Sea 3

 

Margate we live in hope

In the end, all teasing and parakeet safaris forgotten, the three Ossyrian agents did end up trooping down to the beach. It was late November and the water, reflecting the slate-grey of the overhead sky, was far too cold for a swim, yet, in the distance, a frisky pair of Labradors did frolic in the icy surf; oblivious to the numbing temperature, having a fine, wet, afternoon romp.

The two Chihuahuas, ever wary of dogs much larger than themselves, nevertheless watched the pair of Labs from a safe distance with unfeigned interest. The sight of the splashing dogs triggered an intense recollection for one of the Chihuahuas. Ajax vividly remembered the day in mid-September, less than a week after their reunion with the Director in Margate and the whole southeast in the grip of a great muggy heatwave, when ‘T’ had thoroughly amazed them all by shrugging his shoulders and muttering, almost with resignation, ‘This is ridiculous. I mean, here we are sweating away inside and outside, while just across the street lies a great, luscious, refreshing body of cool blue water. Guys…’ he paused, gulping, ‘I don’t care how cold the water is this far north (wistful memories of the languid Pacific still fresh); I’m going for a paddle…aw, what the heck? Make that a dip!!’
new stuff 3 002

The Chihuahuas were scandalised to the feathery tips of twitching tails as, ten minutes later, they crHarry_Dubai+Seaowded into the great bay window, damp noses pressed against the glass, and watched the Director cross the busy street outside dressed in flip flops, a garish blue and white ‘Tommy Bahama’ swimsuit, and grey tee. With a tattered beach towel tucked under one arm he headed down to the Margate sands, kicked off the flip flops, shed the tee…and resolutely waded into the surging tide; waist deep then up to his chest…shoulders, until he suddenly disappeared.

Mesmerised by the sight, both Chihuahuas, watching through the high bay window, were, at first, frozen in a static tableau by their stunned amazement. Seconds later, Alfie, thoroughly confused by ‘T’s eccentric behaviour and more than a little worried, began pawing and leaping at the unyielding glass, barking his frantic concern. Some relief was eventually had when the Director’s head of greying hair could be discerned above the water and, finally, the rest of him (clad in the vividly blue and white ‘Tommy Bahamas’) as he drifted, floating on his back; seemingly suspended at a mystical junction of blue on blue where the immensity of the Thanet sky met its match in the English Channel.

When the Director returned to the flat a half an hour later he walked with a jaunty step and there was a discernable sparkle in his deep brown eyes. The pair of Chihuahuas sulked in a corner, narrowed eyes appraising him with suspicion. ‘T’, for his part, nodded enigmatically before excusing himself in order to shed the soggy swim trunks and pat down his salt-spiked hair. He eventually returned to the front room dressed in normal fashion and looking distinctly refreshed. Plopping down in the old charity shop rattan chair tucked into the bay he beamed at the two Chihuahuas, ‘Guys, that was just great! I can hardly believe that we’ve been here all this time and right across the street, well…’ he trailed off with a blissful look on his homely face.

Daring to break his silence and fully aware of the gravity of the situation, which was about to border on insubordination, Alfie piped up, ‘But ‘T’, how could you??!’ He shot a worried look at Ajax in a silent plea for support, ‘We HATE getting wet!!’ ‘Yeah, I reckoned that was the case a long time ago.’ Far from sounding upset, the Director didn’t seem concerned at all. Cracking a yawn, he continued, ‘You didn’t think I noticed that when we go out for a walk that you two will even dance around a puddle – just so your paws won’t get wet?’ The canines were freshly scandalised when ‘T’ laughed out loud. ‘And remember the look on Ajax’s face when he jumped on the green scum covering Will Turnstone’s pond thinking it was grass…and disappeared under the water? Oh, just priceless!!’ There were tears of mirth in his eyes. ‘Why??!! How could you?? I just don’t understand, ‘T’,’ Alfie beamed; and was there just a hint of reproach in his tone? ‘T’ suddenly blinked. ‘Oh! I get it… You two think that if someone likes something that you don’t like it must be wrong. Yeah?’

Ajax would have blushed if Chihuahuas were capable of that sort of thing but Alfie refused to be cowed by the Director’s bantering tone. ‘Well,’ he growled, ‘isn’t it?’ The Director’s mirth gave way to familiar reflection as, reaching down, he lightly scratched behind the diminutive tricolour’s ears. ‘Sometimes it is,’ he agreed without reluctance, ‘but there are other times when one Chihuahua’s ceiling may be another Chihuahua’s floor.’

TJH

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20 November: Inter-galactic Discoveries XIII, The Sands of the Sea.

 

It was an odd interim, as the bright green of summer shifted to an autumn russet of dropping November leaves. ‘T’ could feel it; pushing the second half of his life (in human terms), the joints and ligaments of legs and back definitely had a preferential option for warmer seasons and balmier climes. Having only recently returned from the fruitless foray in sunny Southern California, he wryly thought, No wonder there’s so many people out there, with weather like that; nearly every day mild and blue with a fresh western breeze off the sea. And, oddly, because as an Ossyrian he had genetic inhibitions protecting him from thoughts of a critical nature; it doesn’t seem fair…followed by, I wonder if that’s why so many of them are good looking, and healthy…and complacent? He did a fast mental head scratch, wondering at his own lack of charity (or was it envy??) and reflected on the many times during his short stay in that enchanted land that he had met with the various types of human suffering and weakness – with attendant courageous or cowardly response – that characterised so much of life on the strange planet called Earth. People really do seem to be more or less the same the world over…yet, at the same time, no two are alike. ‘T’ laughed at the absurd paradox and went to fetch the Chihuahuas.

‘Hey guys, let’s go down to the beach!’ ‘T’ beamed. Ajax immediately barked an enthusiastic response, though (if the truth be told), he would have preferred the Margate pavement with its amazing cacophony of smells; rotting food rooted out of skips by gangster sea gulls, human detritus of innumerable kind, but, above all, the near-infinite trace of canine cousins messaging each other in an olfactory universe several times more complex than the paltry human internet. Still…the beach did have seaweed and the occasional dead dog fish to provide amusement. Alfie, as anxious as Ajax to escape the confines of the small flat, merely rolled his liquid black eyes, pretending insouciance. ‘T’, a recent convert to the love of salty seas (the home planet, of course, had no large bodies of water), had returned from California a positive fanatic, and Alfie loved to tease him. ‘I’d rather go on a parakeet safari,’ the tricolour Chihuahua beamed, and yawned at ‘T’s apparent frustration. ‘It’s too cold to go up to the park,’ was ‘T’s lame reply (the beach was every bit as cold), ‘and, besides, there’s still too many leaves on the trees to get a good spot on a parakeet.’ That was quite true and Alfie knew it; he had only been teasing. Why do I enjoy teasing the boss? Raisin-coloured eyes narrowed in thought; Are all of us slowly going native?

TJH

 

 

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