Tuesday, February 14, 2012

If I Can't Take a Joke

Jokes that are laden with mirth are always, at the bottom, very serious things. They are serious with the seriousness that is love.

Think of God creating the world. He creates it out of love, in a single burst of brilliant self-gift. It bursts out from Him like a shout of joy, like a yell almost; exuberant, prodigal, mirthful, blinding love. It cannot be contained. It forms everything from nothing, life from non-life, better life from lower life and in a final exultant high note, God creates man, a being who can share that love and give it and receive it.

Everything in creation is still pregnant with that love, bursting forth with it, bubbling over with it, alive with it. It meets you in every breath, around every corner, under every rock. It is the impulse of delight, which freely pours itself out as if there were no end, for there is no end. It comes from God. It is too strong to be contained in grim, serious faces. God begs us to play with Him, but in order to do that we have to become like little children. We have to stop taking ourselves seriously but we do that by taking everyone else seriously, and above all by taking God seriously. But not seriously in fear, or duty, but out of love. We delight so much in the others that we forget about ourselves. Completely absorbed in this mirth, we joke. There is no other way to express the depth of our love than to see and delight, and invite others to join in our delight, even in the oddness, the quirkiness, the singularity of the other. Even in the defects. True mirth loves the beloved, defects and all, and makes light of it.

“But, what about evil!” The gloomy ones protest. Indeed, what about it? In this fallen world evil, ugliness and misery exist all around us. They are intensely unnatural and gloominess is a natural response to that reality. But mirth is a response to it as well, a supernatural response. It moves beyond the recognition of the battle to the acknowledgment of victory, and rejoices, even through its tears. Humility laughs.

Mirth, then, is the voice of love saying things too wonderful to be said straight out. It is strong fare, and can be digested only by strong stomachs. Stomachs too used to the soft mush of self-empowering and self-complimenting drivel may not be able to take the truth about themselves, may not be able to take a joke. They lose by this. They are so full of themselves that they cannot receive love in one of its most joyous forms.

Mirth is not the same as humor. Humor can only be shared by a thinking being, for humor is the recognition of incongruity. There need be nothing intellectual about mirth. An infant can experience it, when she claps her hands and coos at the antics of her parents. The mentally handicapped can experience it, laughing to see bright colors with perfect unconcern for what others around them think. Even animals can sometimes share in it. Dogs certainly seem to. No great intelligence is needed, only love. Mirth can be shared from the higher to the lower. It can be a bond between people of the greatest possible disparity, between the genius and the idiot, the educated and the ignorant, the adult and the child, those in the prime of life and those senile with age, the saint and the sinner.

For God shares His mirth with us. What greater disparity could there be?

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