I went to church this morning with Krista Tippett and Father James Martin. It was actually a radio broadcast (On Being), but it was such a time of worship!
Jim Martin graduated from Wharton School of Business and worked in finance at General Electric for six years. One day as he sat on a couch in his apartment eating spaghetti, he watched a PBS documentary on Thomas Merton, and his life was never the same. He became a priest and joined the order of the Jesuits. Among other talents, James Martin is a gifted writer. (Look for a list of his most famous books at the end of this blog.)
Listening to Father Jim talk took me back to the years when I was learning about Ignatian Spirituality. (I think if I had not been female, 60+ years old, and married, I would have joined the Society of Jesuits! Search this blog for the post My Love Affair with the Jesuits, December 2, 2013 for that story. ) As they spoke, I relived the principles of “finding God in all things,” praying by “imagining scripture,” finding freedom from “detachments” that keep you from being open to God, and finding God’s calling for your life by “listening to your desires” that formed the basis of my spiritual journey and opened the door to everything I have learned since then.
However, the point of this “sermon” that moved me the most was about joy and humor in the Christian life. After gently poking fun of “grim Christians” (an oxymoron if I ever heard one) and the “frozen chosen,” Father Martin talked about the obvious joy in the life of Jesus. He said, “I think that joy is different than happiness. Joy is happiness in God. Joy has an object. Joy is about a relationship. Happiness can be very evanescent, can come one day and leave the next. But joy is a lot deeper than that.”
As I listened, I flashed back to a class when Richard Foster (a very funny man and a practical jokester) spoke about “Holy Hilarity.” I remembered the hour I spent listening to Foster, Dallas Willard, James Bryan Smith, Chris Webb, and John Ortberg converse together about the spiritual formation journey in terms that had all of them and all of in the audience in side-splitting laughter, with tears rolling down our faces. Then I thought of classes I have taught where gales of laughter accompanied discussing and disagreeing about very serious subjects.
So here’s the application I made to the “sermon” by Father James Martin. Christmas is a season of happiness for many. For Christians it is one more moment in of joy in a lifetime of joy. Christians need laughter and jokes and even some sarcasm now and then to spice up a life of commitment and obedience. We need to stop taking ourselves so seriously. (I remember reading that the giraffe was created to show that God has a sense of humor.) Life on this earth is deadly serious – and sad and depressing and overwhelmingly tragic. But life in the kingdom is a life of joy even as we continually step out to do the one thing we can to do to make a difference.
Best Sellers by Father James Martin: The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life, My Life with the Saints, Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy and Laughter are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life. I have read all of these and loved them. His latest book Jesus: A Pilgrimage is on my list!