C.S.Lewis once quipped, “You can always tell the pillars of the church because their faces look like stone.” I can remember the first time in my first parish when I cracked a joke in the pulpit. The congregation were astounded and shocked and didn’t know whether to laugh (and I thought perhaps that was because they had forgotten how to laugh).
I’m on the side of the traditionalists in religion, but I have to admit that we very often have a serious humor deficiency. One of the problems with this is that our culture has too often reduced humor to sarcasm, smut and slapstick. There’s certainly room for satire in humor, but not cruelty and sarcasm, and smut just lowers the tone and slapstick is funny, but shallow. What we’re missing too often is the good, deep down, belly shaking laughter that makes us human.
Remember ‘human’, ‘humor’ and ‘humility’ all come from the root ‘humus’ which means earth. So humor keeps us down to earth and the best kind of humor is based on our own recognized humanity and humility. Humor sees the incongruous and hilarious situation that we are creatures of mud with the souls of angels. It sees the sad and silly situation we’re in–mortals who are made for immortality–when the humor pokes fun at our vanity, pride and self importance it opens up a new perception of ourselves and our humanity.
When then, are we so darned serious all the time? I don’t blame only the traditionalist Catholics, although Lord knows we’re a pretty glum (and secretely angry) lot, but the liberal Catholics are pretty sober and dour as well with their serious causes and their simmering anger. Where’s the joy I wonder? The atheist Bertrand Russell was pretty sharp in his assessment, “If the Christians are all redeemed, why don’t they look more redeemed?”
If we are to evangelize, then we need to open our hearts to the enthusiasm that comes with the Holy Spirit, and the root of the word ‘enthusiasm’ is the Greek en theos or ‘God within.’ This is what people will find attractive about our faith–not that we all become goofy comedians all the time, or (God forbid) that we priests become stand up comics, but that we start to evidence the quiet and deep joy that takes God and the business of heaven very seriously, but takes ourselves very lightly.
Nor forgetting G.K.Chesterton’s line that ‘Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly.’ We need to take ourselves and all our super serious concerns a bit more lightly, for t a parodoxical truth here–that if we can see the levity in gravity we’ll soon realize how much gravity there is in levity.