There is a strong and lively tradition of playful humor and laughter in most wisdom and spiritual traditions: coyote, Nasrudin, Saint Francis and his order of Jesters of the Lord, Zen masters, Taoist sages, and Hasidic storytellers. They all carry the banner for the spiritual practice of play. Susan Sparks keeps this tradition alive in this wonderful book. She is an ex-lawyer turned stand-up comedian and senior pastor of Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City. In her introduction, she quotes Garrison Keillor: "Humor is not a trick, not jokes. Humor is a presence in the world, like grace, and shines on everyone." Sparks believes that humor is a tool that can help us to live with elegance, beauty, and a generosity of spirit in our everyday lives.
In the first chapter, entitled "A Letter from God," the Holy One calls humanity back to the gift of laughter. Sparks wants us to see that laughter fosters intimacy, grows out of faith, and engenders forgiveness. It can be brought into all departments of life including our homes, workplaces, hospitals and hospices, and houses of worship. Hotei, a pot-bellied Zen monk from the tenth century beckons us to giggle as much as we can. The beloved Hindu god Ganesha, the smiling elephant deity, along with Krishna bring light and cheerfulness into the lives of millions of believers.
Teresa of Avila warns us: "From our sour-faced saints, good Lord deliver us." For all those trained in conservative Christian homes, it was forbidden to laugh aloud in church or to express extravagant emotions. Sparks would like to see a more relaxed and playful mood in religious communities, an effort on the part of more people to bring laughter into the difficult places of life, the use of humor to see past our differences, and the more widespread acknowledgement of the healing power of laughter. This hopeful and helpful affirmation of the spiritual power of humor is just the right medicine for these troubled times. Here are some of the sprightly quotations used in the book:
• "Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face."
— Victor Hugo
• "Laughter's the nearest we ever get, or should get, to sainthood. It's the state of grace that saves most of us from contempt."
— John Osborne
• "You don't stop laughing because you grow old. You grow old because you stop laughing."
— Michael Pritchard
• "Only by assuming a playful attitude toward our religious tradition can we possibly make any sense
— Harvey Cox
• "Mirth is God's medicine. Everybody ought to bathe in it."
— Henry Ward Beecher
• "Laughter is God's soothing touch on a fevered world."
— Kenneth Hildebrand
• "Laughter is carbonated holiness."
— Anne Lamott