We’ve just passed the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice and the end of exams. Teachers had one week to frantically mark all the papers and complete the lengthy process of report writing. As we all become a little run down, we will also inevitably see an increase in illness across the College as the winter cold and flu season begins. Just in time for the holidays!
Such busy times of the year are not devoid of joy however. Joy can be found in many ways each day. We might celebrate a great achievement. We may experience joy in a relationship, where we feel loved and supported. We might simply bask in the satisfaction that comes from doing your best or of a job well done. We are fortunate that our lives are blessed with peace and security and that our we are free of great distress that so many suffer. For some people joy is quite different, a day without violence, a meal, a night of shelter and warmth. When we consider our place in the world there is much to be joyful about, but there are always experiences and aspects of our lives that diminish our sense of joy.
Joy comes in many forms and is inherently multifaceted. One form of joy that is universal is mirth. Laughter is an innate behaviour. From the moment we are born, laughter is something we do. When and why we laugh however varies greatly. Every person loves to laugh! No matter where they are from, how old they are, what job they work in, the language they speak, nor their socio-economic status; all people love to laugh. Laughter is simple: it makes us feel good.
Deeper than this, laughter physiologically instigates a positive mood, lowers blood pressure and makes you feel relaxed. It is communal in that it brings us closer to others, especially those who we are similar to us. When we consider the people we enjoy being with they are often those who are like us, with similar interests, who have a ‘similar sense of humour’, who make us feel good.
Laughter is also contagious. I am fortunate as a teacher to be able to be with people everyday. The best experiences I have had involved laughter. The classes I remember the most clearly are the ones where we had a laugh. In my job humour and laughter mean so much. Sitting in a double period exploring human pre-history and religious-like behaviour is pretty heavy material. However, nothing brings a Year 11 group back from the brink of unconsciousness like a sneaky caveman gag.
Recently I was allocated a study supervision class at the end of a day of exams. The first period was productive, with students studying in rows silently. As is often the case we took a mini break in between lessons, via a five-minute YouTube clip of a ridiculous parody of the song ‘Let It Go’, from the movie Frozen. Once the ice was broken (pun intended), the second lesson was extraordinary. The laughter did not stop; it was contagious and self-perpetuating. Being with those students made my week and I am sure that many of them will remember the class as fondly as well. I was fortunate enough to be in a position to make a decision. My assessment was that, this is what they needed more than another thirty minutes of study. Sometimes it is what we all need. This makes me ponder the decisions we make and why? When do we avoid or put a stop to humour?
Fr James Martin SJ says, “Holy people are joyful, because holiness brings us closer to God, the source of all joy”. By being joyful and offering this joy to others enables us to help others be closer to God. Humour and laughter are fickle. Sometimes humour can be degrading and bring laughter at the expense of another person. So when we offer joy, through humour, we need to ensure that it’s done in a positive manner. This is something our young people work on over time, we can help them use humour well by modeling the good.
There are many things that are universally funny. One thing that all people respond to is a humorous story told well. The incongruity, ludicrousness and absurdity of life, are things that we all experience and can share with others. The Bible is not heavy on the humorous side, but I think there is much that in the book that may bring about laughter. A story that comes to mind is about young Eutychus. In The Acts of The Apostles, it records how he grew so tired sitting at a third story window listening to one of St Paul’s lengthy stories that he was “ overcome by sleep, fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. But Paul went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, “Do not be alarmed, he is alive.” (Acts 20:9-10) I can imagine the story being told by Eutychus and his friends for years afterwards and the laughter both in the telling and at St Paul’s wonderful punch line. Sometimes it’s not the joke itself that offers us joy, it’s the telling of the story or gag and the communal nature of humour that stirs laughter from deep within us.
As we experience the pressure and stress this busy time brings, the gloom of winter, and the illness that our loved ones and we suffer from time to time, remember that we can still find joy and offer it to others. Today might be a good day to find a funny clip on YouTube, a new gag or a story that you recall, and share it. Laughter may not be the best medicine, but it surely makes us feel a little happier and in doing so we experience joy; one of the greatest gifts God offers the world.
To Brighten Your Day
Humour sometimes requires a context or understanding. The following joke is only humorous if the reader knows the practical nature the Jesuits are renowned for and the self-deprecation within.
The Jesuit, a Dominican, and a Franciscan…
A Jesuit, a Dominican, and a Franciscan were walking along an old road, debating the greatness of their orders. Suddenly, an apparition of the Holy Family appeared in front of them, with Jesus in a manger and Mary and Joseph praying over him.
The Franciscan fell on his face, overcome with awe at the sight of God born in such poverty.
The Dominican fell to his knees, adoring the beautiful reflection of the Trinity and the Holy Family.
The Jesuit walked up to Joseph, put his arm around his shoulder, and said, “So, have you thought about where to send him to school?”
Brendan Nicholls is the liturgy coordinator at St Ignatius, Geelong.