Jan 31 2014
February Theme: Laughter and Playfulness
“O What Is Laughter, Hafiz?”
by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones
Do me a favor: If you have access to the Internet right now, go to Google, enter “laughing videos” in the search engine, and then click on one of the links. Go ahead, I’ll wait! In fact, I’ll meet you back here in … about an hour and a half.
Sitting down to write you a learned essay about February’s transformational theme, “Laughter and Playfulness,” I find myself instead on a 90-minute journey around the world, following the trail of laughter one click at a time. I don’t end up actually guffawing today (maybe it’s the pressure of this deadline?), but the corners of my mouth turn up irresistibly as I watch person after person, from curious baby to blushing bride, from slick television professional to sober-sided elder, catch the giggles and pass them on. Some of my favorite videos bring up the same bubbling sense of joy on the twentieth viewing as they do on the first.
In “Baby Laughing Hysterically at Ripping Paper,” we watch an intent baby, Micah, fumbling to rip the small piece of paper in his hands. His father, offering the baby a whole page from a household bill, tears off a big chunk. Micah bursts into laughter! With each succeeding rip, Micah laughs harder and harder, a whole-bodied chuckle that almost rocks him off his seat. He glances at his own little piece of paper, but he doesn’t quite have the dexterity to let ’er rip, so he looks back up at Dad with sheer joy and anticipation. Micah—like his dad and all of us strangers now watching—can’t get enough of the delight that each rip brings. Eventually, we start to feel joy for no reason at all, just for the sheer fun of it … which leads me to another video, of course. In this one—Google “Buddha on the Train”—an unassuming man gets on a crowded subway train and begins, quietly at first, to laugh, until the whole car is snorting with laughter alongside him, at which point he exits inconspicuously and takes a seat in another train, to start the process again.
Call it laughing yoga, or laughter medicine, or the sheer contagion of laughter … You can see how an hour and a half flew by before I knew it. Take a break, if you can. You’ll find Micah’s magic at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RP4abiHdQpc. The bodhisattva on the subway will teach you from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xmDFt7Obz2U.
What makes laughter, in the right circumstances, so contagious? When does it draw us in? When does it make us open our hearts, our breath, and our mouths to join in, and when does it drive us away? Why do some of us hoot with laughter at the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart, while others die over the Three Stooges? How do sources of laughter and playfulness differ from one culture to another? What, if anything, makes for universal delight? And why does the Dalai Lama laugh so often, anyway?
The 14th-century Persian poet Hafiz, rendered by Daniel Ladinsky in a small book called I Heard God Laughing: Poems of Hope and Joy, asks, “O what is laughter, Hafiz? / What is this precious love and laughter / Budding in our hearts? / It is the glorious sound / Of a soul waking up!”
The glorious sound of a soul waking up! Come, my beloveds, let us reawaken our sense of play and discover how contagious our delight can be. I can’t wait to see you in church!
With joy and anticipation, Rev. Nancy
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