By Yolanda Pierce, Ph.D.,
Theologian Frederick Buechner writes that his spiritual conversion took place when a minister preached a sermon with “confession, and tears, and great laughter.” It made me wonder how many of us cannot feel the power of God in our lives because while we have confession and tears, our lives are often devoid of great laughter.
I recently sat down and had lunch with three dynamic women. It was an impromptu meal. I desperately needed to head back home, where ungraded papers, unanswered emails, and unmet needs waited for me in abundance. In my mind, I argued, I did not have time for what would surely be a leisurely lunch, in light of all that I had left undone. With the two hours I would spend at lunch, I could finish a lecture or pay some bills or try to get more than one step ahead of my busy schedule.
But the prompting of the Holy Spirit led me to a small table, at an even smaller restaurant, where laughter was the main dish. The food was excellent and the company was even better. But the great laughter was a balm for my soul. I love to laugh and I consider myself as someone who has a great sense of humor, which I generously employ in my lectures and in my sermons. But until I was on my way back home, with memories of this lunch still feeding my spirit, I hadn’t realized how much I needed laughter; how much I needed that deep-bellied experience of laughing out loud at the absurd, at the funny, and even at myself.
On a regular basis, we need to laugh until we cry. We need to experience the fullness of God’s grace, with great laughter and mirth. I recently shared with a new mother my favorite memory of my daughter as an infant: her still-too-big head on her tiny body causing her to very slowly lean to the side, and then finally fall over, like a slow-motion turtle. This simple memory made me laugh so hard, I had tears in my eyes. I could picture it in my mind as clearly as if I were watching it on video. In that moment I truly understood the power of laughter: to remind us that the joy of the Lord can be found if we are open to the beauty of even the simplest gifts. And we can remember and experience that joy, again and again, when we laugh out loud.
I pray during this Lenten journey that we experience God’s grace through the precious gift of great laughter. May we all find a welcoming table where we can dine and laugh.
Dr. Yolanda Pierce is the Elmer G. Homrighausen Associate Professor of African American Religion and Literature at Princeton Theological Seminary, and Liaison with the Princeton University Center for African American Studies. She blogs @ Reflections of an Afro-Christian Scholar