My ‘chosen’ grandmother, Ami, described how she and her childhood friends would lie down in a circle, each girl with her head on the stomach of the person next to her, and concentrate on laughing. They did this, she explained, as one of her friends had problems with digestion and had been told she need to laugh more after she ate. And so, they created elaborate schemes whereby they would all end up laughing hysterically as ‘medicine’ for their friend. Of course, ‘laughter is the best medicine’ the saying goes, and today, science can prove the very real and tangible benefits of laughter to promote relaxation, decrease stress, boost our immune system and release endorphins which just make us feel good.
There are plenty of things in our world today that cause stress, increase fear or anxiety and cause pain for ourselves or on behalf of others. It can be overwhelming to open ourselves to the enormous suffering evident in the world around us, and there is plenty to prompt fear whether we’re looking for it or not. We can be so focused on being productive, efficient and secure that we can lose sight of what this life is all about. And perhaps that is the first question, what is it all about to you? There are many things that can grab our attention and seek to hold it—from possessions to prestige to power—but as Christians, we are invited to align ourselves with something greater, eternal and life-giving, before we turn to the world.
Thomas Merton puts it this way:
What is serious to men is often very trivial in the sight of God. What in God might appear to us as “play” is perhaps what he Himself takes most seriously. At any rate, the Lord plays and diverts Himself in the garden of His creation, and if we could let go of our own obsession with what we think is the meaning of it all, we might be able to hear His call and follow Him in His mysterious, cosmic dance. We do not have to go very far to catch echoes of that game, and of that dancing. When we are alone on a starlit night; when by chance we see the migrating birds in autumn descending on a grove of junipers to rest and eat; when we see children in a moment when they are really children; when we know love in our own hearts; or when, like the Japanese poet Bashō we hear an old frog land in a quiet pond with a solitary splash–at such times the awakening, the turning inside out of all values, the ‘newness,’ the emptiness and the purity of vision that make themselves evident, provide a glimpse of the cosmic dance.
Being with Ami was like this—she embraced all who came across her path in such a way as to awaken a sense not only of wonder and joy, creativity and possibility, but of profound and infinite worth. Being in her presence was an experience of being “turned inside out of all values” other than the delight of living and loving in the present moment. I seek to live awakened to this glimpse of the cosmic dance and to be someone in whom others catch a glimpse of themselves as they truly are, as God sees them. I have a long way to go, of course, my whole life will be about this—sprinkled liberally with laughter so I don’t take my failures too seriously.
Merton continues, “…yet the fact remains that we are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds and join in the general dance.” Our suffering and fearful world won’t know true healing until we all are steeped in this profound awakening—how can we radiate this contagious and life-giving love to all whom we encounter, allowing it to show us how to love and heal and hope? As the hymn goes: they will know we are Christians by our love…
Hope to see you on Sunday,