The Role of Laughter in the Christian Life - page 5

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From the Spring 2015 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

The Role of Laughter in the Christian Life

by Terry Lindvall, Ph.D.
C.S. Lewis Professor of Communication and Christian Thought, Virginia Wesleyan College

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  It is possible that every morning, God claps His hands in glee and says every morning to the sun: “Do it again.” And unlike many of us, He jumps up and starts the day.
  The laughter of fun has its roots in humus and humere, in the earth and moisture of our lives, where humor dwells with the lowly, the common, the vulgar, and all the animals in the manger. That cheerful humility opens us up to the humor of our own lives.
  Now the fact that man was made from the dust of the earth seems to imply to me that our humor thus will be earthy. The fact that women were created from a rib, above the waist and nearer the brain, seems to suggest a different kind of laughter. Such a juxtaposition leads to the third cause of laughter Lewis identified as the Joke Proper.
  As I have mentioned, I believe that a divine incongruity exists in our nature as spiritual animals. The fact that we make coarse jokes, jokes about sex and bodily functions, was for Lewis evidence that we are animals that find our bodies either objectionable or funny.
  Laughter, like any other good gift bestowed by God, can be corrupted, bent, spoiled, ruined. Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds. Laughter begins to be a demon the moment it begins to be a god. If we make laughter a god and worship it, it takes its own revenge upon us. It dies. Laughter is not enough to sustain us. It must be recognized as a simple gift; not the gift of life itself.
  Lewis warned of the laughter of Flippancy. Flippancy jokes about goodness, virtue, justice. It is cruelty disguised as joking. Our throats are like open sepulchers, graves where dead laughter exists. The weed of flippancy grows in the soil of superiority and pride. Its grubby root is in meanness. Over a cup of coffee and a sneering wink and a rolling of the eyes, we mock others. We laugh but know we should be repenting.
  Lewis denounced flippancy so thoroughly because it was so close to his heart. It was his thorn. He knew its power, of wink-wink, nudge-nudge, know what I mean smirks toward others, living in what he called his own great puddle of naughtiness and meanness toward others. Yet, just because a good gift can go bad, one should not reject it. Laughter must be enjoyed in its goodness and fullness. In fact, laughter contributes to our physical as well as spiritual health.
  The therapeutic benefits of laughter to health have been well documented: When we laugh, chemical endorphins are released into the blood stream; as laughter provides a workout for the diaphragm, they increase the body’s ability to use oxygen. Laughter enhances blood flow, reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, stimulates alertness, dulls stabs of pain, fosters a sense of relaxation, provides cardiovascular benefits such as aerobic exercise, and loosens your bowels. Laughter truly may be good medicine.

Lessons of Laughter

  As the proverb tells us, a happy heart makes the face cheerful. So what might one do to enhance one’s laughter? C.S. Lewis and other writers offer some hints.
  First, habits of humor require an encounter with the God of laughter. Seek Him and seek to enjoy Him and His people.
  Second, spend time with laughing saints. St. Teresa of Avila prayed that God would deliver her from gloomy saints. The father of Methodism, John Wesley, preached that a “sour religion is the devil’s religion,” inspired no doubt from Jesus’ admonition for men not to look dour when they fasted. Be with saints who see God’s grace interrupting their lives, who take time to give thanks for a meal, a conversation with a friend, a kiss from a spouse.

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