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Laughter: God's Holy Breath

Delivered by Ilona Forgeng, March 19, 2006
At the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, New Bern, NC

Call to worship

Come in. Come into this place which we make happy by our presence. 
Ancient Hindu scripture says, "There are these three things that are real: God, human folly, and laughter. The first two are beyond our comprehension, so we must do what we can with the third."

 

Opening Words

The following is a true story.
A woman and her son were church shopping. After going to many different churches, the son finally said to his mother, “Can we please go back to that place where they eat donuts and people laugh?” It was, of course, a Unitarian Church.
Come into this place. Together we make it a holy place. Welcome to the church where people laugh. 

 

READINGS

One of the creation myths of the Aborigines of South Australia says "humans were created from dung molded into human form and tickled, thus causing the image to laugh and come alive." 

According to a Polynesian creation legend, the first couple looked at each other's naked bodies and laughed. 

In ancient Egypt the Creator confronted Chaos and, as he laughed it off, delivered a world of joy and exuberance. "When God burst out laughing there was light...."

In Apache myth the creator made humankind able to do almost everything. The creator was not satisfied, though, till humankind was able to LAUGH. And so people laughed and laughed and laughed. And the creator said: "Now you are fit to live."

 

Most people assume WWJD stands for "What would Jesus do?" But now the automobile advertisers tell us the initials really stand for "What would Jesus drive?"

One theory is that Jesus would tool around in his father’s old Plymouth because "the Bible says God drove Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden in a Fury." But in Psalm 83, the Almighty clearly owns both a Pontiac and a Geo. The passage urges the Lord to "pursue your enemies with your Tempest and terrify them with your Storm."

Perhaps God favors Dodge pickup trucks, because Moses' followers are warned not to go up a mountain "until the Ram's horn sounds a long blast."

Meanwhile, Moses and Joshua obviously preferred noisy British sports cars, for it is said "the roar of Moses' Triumph is heard in the hills." And "Joshua's Triumph was heard throughout the land."

Some scholars insist that Jesus drove a Honda, but didn't like to talk about it. As proof they cite a verse in St. John's gospel where Christ tells the crowd, "For I did not speak of my own Accord . . ." 

And following Jesus’ lead, the Apostles car-pooled in a Honda, for it says, "The Apostles were in one Accord."

But then, perhaps Jesus simply drove a Christler, but God may be the one driving a Plymouth, because, as we know, “Hell hath no Fury.”

 

OFFERTORY

A man called the First National Bank asking for some information about bonds. Conversion or redemption? asked the bank clerk. There was a pause. "Pardon me," said the man, "Do I have the First National Bank or the First Presbyterian Church?
For those who have decided they are ready for neither conversion nor redemption, the morning offering will now be given and received.

 

Sermon

In the Hebrew scriptures, God’s Ruach moves over the waters at the time of creation. Ruach is often translated as spirit, but it can be translated as “breath.” And for me ruach, god’s holy breath, is a metaphor for laughter. 
It was the Holy Breath which, in the Hindu traditions, moved on the face of the waters at creation, and imparted vitality into everything. The Prana or principle of life of the Hindus is the breath of life by which the Brahma, the Creator, makes man a living soul.
In Psalms the Lord made the heavens, and all the angels by the breath of his mouth. It was God’s Breath that was breathed into Adam. 
Holy Breath was the sigh from the mouth of the Supreme God in pagan traditions.
Holy Breath. Isn’t that what laughter is? Are we not blessed by the ability to laugh? Are we not blessed when we have someone to share our laughter with?
Humor and religion have a long history together. Remember the story of Abraham and Sara, when God told the 90-year-old woman she would conceive? And she doubled up with laughter. The Lord heard it, and chuckled himself, and said, Abraham, your wife shall indeed bear you a son, and you must call him Isaac, which means 'Laughter.'
The radical Emma Goldman said, “If I can’t dance I don’t want to be part of your revolution.”  Well, If I can’t laugh, I don’t want to be part of your religion.
The great Norse God Thor was riding his white stallion across the heavens, shouting, “I’m Thor, I’m Thor.” His horse said, “Of course you’re thor, thilly, you forgot to put the thaddle on.”
Humor is Unitarian, and it is certainly universal. 
Jesus said unto them, "Who do you say that I am?"   The Unitarian replied "You are the eschatological manifestation of the ground of our being, the kerygma of which we find the ultimate meaning in our interpersonal relationships."    And Jesus said "Huh?" 

Recent studies show that UU’s are, in general, a happier lot than most other denominations. Perhaps it is because we know it’s okay to laugh a little in church. 

I asked one of our visitors last week how she liked our service. “That was the darndest church service I ever went to,” she said. “The only time I heard the name Jesus Christ was when Roger spilled his coffee.”

Laughter is something everyone does. All ages, all classes, all cultures—we all laugh. We even share the ability to laugh with other animals. Rats laugh when we tickle them. Chimpanzees tickle each other, laugh and giggle. They, too, share their laughter. 

The theory is that laughter, like a smile, is a disarming action. Laughter has been a survival tactic since we first walked upright. It linked us with other members of our tribe; it was a way of turning aside a tense situation, it let us know we were supposed to be friends. The laughter of children is one of the most endearing rewards of parenthood. It is our payback for all those midnight feedings and dirty diapers. 

Children laugh an average of 400 times a day. Adults only laugh about 15 times. 

A priest and a rabbi operated a church and a synagogue across the street from each other. Since they had complementary schedules, they decided to go in together to buy a car. After the purchase, they drove it home and parked it on the street between them.
A few minutes after they brought the car home, the rabbi looked out and saw the priest sprinkling water on their new car. It didn't need a wash, so he went out and asked the priest what he was doing. "I'm blessing it," the priest replied. 
The rabbi considered this a moment, then went back inside the synagogue. He reappeared a moment later with a hacksaw, walked over to the back of the car and cut two inches off the tailpipe.

Laughter breaks the ice. It brings warmth, closeness, and goodwill; it eases hostility and aggression. We often laugh when we want to reduce tension or say no to someone. We laugh when we apologize. Laughter disarms people, creates a bridge between them, and promotes friendly behavior. Watch the laughter at the social hour today. Watch how it is used. And share the laughter. 

There are many theories about how humor works: incongruity, superiority, ridicule, but we won’t get into that today. Analyzing Humor has been compared to analyzing a frog: it can be done, but the subject tends to die in the process.

Still, we can say that laughter fertilizes the brain and it fertilizes the human spirit. When we enjoy good things together life itself seems better. We become more sensitive to everything and everyone around us. When we share laughter we develop a new respect for each other. We enjoy each other’s company, we have a better world. Laughter is contagious. Shared laughter is a powerful tool. When we laugh others laugh with us and the more people to share the laughter, the more laughter there is. Laughter feeds on laughter. What is more significant to our humanity than our shared laughter? Our Ruach, the breath and spirit of God.

Three clergy were discussing death, and one of them said if you were in your casket, and friends and family were gathered, what would you like to hear them say?"
The Baptist preacher said, “I would like to hear them say that I was a wonderful husband, a fine spiritual leader, and a great family man."
The Catholic priest said, "I would like to hear that I was a wonderful teacher and a servant of God who made a huge difference in people's lives."
The Unitarian Universalist minister said, "I would like to hear them say, 'Look, he's moving!"

You have just decreased your blood pressure. You have reduced your stress level, reinforced your immune system, relaxed your muscles and you probably feel a lot better right now. In fact, this sermon will probably improve your heath for the rest of the day. 
Some people think laughter is a waste of time. It is a luxury, they say, a frivolity, something to indulge in only every so often. Nothing could be further from the truth. Laughter is essential to our equilibrium, to our well-being, to our aliveness. If we're not well, laughter helps us get well; if we are well, laughter helps us stay that way.

A veterinarian was feeling ill and went to see her doctor. The doctor asked her all the usual questions, about symptoms, how long had they been occurring, etc., when she interrupted him: "Hey look, I'm a vet - I don't need to ask my patients these kind of questions: I can tell what's wrong just by looking. Why can't you?" The doctor nodded, looked her up and down, wrote out a prescription, and handed it to her and said, "There you are. Of course, if that doesn't work, we'll have to have you put down."

In the 1960s, Norman Cousins became suddenly ill and his doctors couldn't figure out what was wrong. So Cousins checked into a hotel and began watching some of his favorite Marx Brothers movies. In short, he deliberately used laughter as medicine. The pain eventually disappeared. Was it the laughter that worked? Didn’t hurt!

Did you know that laughter exercises your whole body? Thirty seconds of full, hearty laughter is the same as three minutes of rowing…and is a heck of a lot more fun. Laughter causes good vibrations, our whole system dances, and we live longer.
So, if you like laughter, consider it sound medical advice to indulge in it as often as you can. If you don't like laughter, then take your medicine and laugh anyway.

Two men meet on the street. One asks the other: "Hi, how are you?" The other replies: "I'm fine, thanks." "And how's your son? Is he still unemployed?" "Yes, he is. But he is meditating now." "Meditating? What's that?" "I don't know. But it's better than sitting around and doing nothing!"

UU minister Forrest Church tells us that religion is about being born, knowing we are going to die, and figuring out what to do in between. That is serious business, and we need to deflect some of that seriousness. Because spirituality is a truly serious subject, it is vital to cultivate a lightness of spirit about it. 

There is the danger of fanaticism in those who are terribly serious and earnest about religion. And so, we do our best to lighten up. 

When life gets too intense, laughter can help us get a new perspective and even a deeper understanding of what it means to be human. The situation is serious. After all, life is a fatal disease and good health just means we are dying more slowly. But laughter can help make whatever we have to face a little more bearable.. When life is too much to bear, humor and laughter can often see us through, can give us a new viewpoint, a new understanding, a lighter sense of life for a time.

Over the massive front doors of a church, these words were inscribed, "The Gate of Heaven." Below that was a small cardboard sign which read, "Please use other entrance." 

We wouldn't laugh at God if we believed him to be The Unmoved Mover -- the Almighty, the everlasting, the omnipotent, omniscient. There's nothing there to hang a joke on. On the other hand, when we laugh at God, it's about a humanized, not-completely-in-control God. 

A man walking along a beach was lost in meditation.  
Suddenly the sky clouded above his head and, in a booming voice, the Lord said, "Because you have TRIED to be faithful to me in all ways, I will grant you one wish." The man said, "Build a bridge to Hawaii so I can drive over anytime I want." 
The Lord said, "Your request is frivolous.  Think of what it would take.  The supports required to reach the bottom of the Pacific!  The concrete and steel! It will use up half a dozen natural resources.  I can do it, but there must be something else more worthwhile." 
The man thought about it for a long time.  Finally he said, "Lord, I wish that I could understand my wife and know how to make her truly happy." 
The Lord replied, "You want two lanes or four on that bridge?"

Reinhold Niebuhr says that there is an intimate relationship between faith and humor and it is because both deal with the incongruous or illogical aspects of our lives. He says, "Both humor and faith are expressions of the freedom of the human spirit.

The Unitarian poet e.e. cummings wrote, “The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.”

Garrison Keillor said: "Humor is not a trick or a joke put into words. It's a presence in the world, like grace, and it's there for everyone."

Heaven and Hell

So, given this limited time, how can we make the very most of it?  We can enjoy and we can bring joy. We can rise above suffering with compassion, and with laughter. We can share our joys and share our laughter. . . . We can laugh at ourselves, for blessed are those who can laugh at themselves, for they will never cease to be amused.

We can find one another. Then we can draw on our spirit of joy and laughter—we may never understand ourselves, we will never understand the world, but we can learn, endure and share the sacred enjoyment of each others company. We can share the holy breath.

Nobody, at the end of your life, will regret the fact that you were not more serious while you were alive. They will not tell each other stories about how seriously you took life. The stories they will tell about you, and the times they will remember, will be the times something funny or sweet happened, times when you laughed together.  They will remember the poignant times too, but they won’t measure your life by your ability to kill joy – but by your ability to generate joy. Have fun with those you love. Laugh with them. Cherish the good times. Nourish your spirit. Breathe the Ruach.

Remember to laugh. Laugh hard and laugh long. Remember how laughter heals your spirit and remember the happiness and joy it brings others. And remember these words from Marcel Proust:

Let us be grateful to those who make us happy, for they are the charming gardeners of our souls.

Closing Words

Dear Lord, So far today, I've done alright. I haven't gossiped, haven't lost my temper, haven't been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish, or over-indulgent, and I'm very thankful for that. 
But in a few minutes, God, I'm going to get out of bed, and from then on, I'm going to need a lot more help. 

May you wake up laughing and leave laughter in your wake…and may the Farce be with you!”

 

 

Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of New Bern

1120 Glenburnie Road

New Bern, North Carolina

252-636-5111

email: UUFNB@yahoo.com