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Book Review

By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat


Between Heaven and Mirth
Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life
James Martin
HarperOne 10/11 Hardcover $25.99
ISBN: 9780062024268

James Martin is a Jesuit priest, culture editor at America magazine, and bestselling author of The Jesuit Guide To (Almost) Everything. He has been a Catholic all his life, a Jesuit for more than 20 years, and a priest for 10. During these years, Martin has noticed that the great saints were joyful people who did not take themselves too seriously and were able to give themselves up to laughter. In contrast, he has found those who are "professionally religious" to be very grim men and women who seem to believe that "the absence of joy is a necessary part of their spiritual lives." To understand just what he means, try to recall times you have seen parents stifle the laughter or giggles of a child in church. The religious training that leads to this views God as a joyless judge, regards religion as incredibly serious, and emphasizes sin over virtue and sadness over happiness.

Martin's goal is to suggest how joy, humor, and laughter are essential in the spiritual life. For those who are travelling a more traditional path, the author reveals the solid place of joy in the Old and New Testaments, especially in the Psalms and in the writings of St. Luke, and St. Paul. It is refreshing to read about Jesus as a playful teacher who on many occasions exuded a buoyant sense of joy. All this is not a slight to other religions since Martin points out that Jews, Sufis, Zen Buddhists and others all have fools who teach wisdom through humor and laughter.

In a lively chapter, the author lists reasons for good humor in our lives. He regards it as a tool for humility, a way of speaking truth to power, a means of courage, a practice for deepening our relationship with God, a vehicle for healing, and a road to fostering good relations. Martin then goes on to show how religious institutions can tap into the many spiritual resources of joy, laughter, and humor for renewal. For those who have questions about the challenges of living a joyful life, answers are provided.

Throughout the book Martin offers jokes, humorous stories, comic bits and examples of joy and humor from the lives of St Teresa of Avila, St. Francis of Assisi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther, Pope John XXIII, Thomas Merton, and many others. He winds things up with reasons why we need humor in our relationship with God. Between Heaven and Mirth couldn't come at a better time since both individuals and religious institutions are feeling the pressure of hard times. Joy and a playful sense of humor are great antidotes to hopelessness and helplessness.


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by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
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