Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Serious Play: Finding God in Laughter

This is a house of laughter. There is music in each note of mirth, each high-pitched shriek over tickled bellies or private giggles shared among siblings. Even on days like today, joy erupts between fever spikes, bubbles over in smiles that reach the eyes and touch the heart.

In the back yard, the joy repeats in chorus of birds swooping from treetop to treetop, their incessant chatter more beautiful to me than any symphony. Back lit by the setting sun, they appear as dead leaves still hanging to naked branches that have yet to be clothed by Spring's advent.

These leaves, though, repeatedly release their hold and take flight, a single one startling the flock who join together in impromptu swarm, a lopsided dance that circles round and ends with them reattaching to the same tree where it all began.

As children play, I click the frames, thinking they are red-breasted robins. Only later in exposure do I see who they really are, cedar waxwings--dozens of them with their pinched head, black mask, and muted seal-point Siamese brown.

I laugh aloud at their treetop antics, tiny birds running in fear of my terrorizing brood twenty feet below. My grin is broad even now as I think that if I were them, I'd run, too.

Over the past month, I've been reading about joy and laughter in Terry Lindvall's Surprised By Laughter: The Comic World of C.S. Lewis, which attempts to show C.S. Lewis in a different light, as one whose life was not merely that of a serious scholar or a high-brow writer of Christian theology. In the midst of the seriousness, his life was also marked by great joy and laughter.

As the author says, "It is not the purpose of this book to argue that C.S. Lewis was a comedian...On the other hand, this jovial man possessed an angelic mirth" (p. 5). It is this joy that is at the very heart of Christianity, and as such, Lewis' heart was filled with gladness, wit, and good humor that the author's analysis of Lewis' life and writings demonstrates.

Lindvall begins with several chapters outlining the legacy of joy and laughter that Lewis would have been immersed in. He then divides the remaining chapters into "four causes of laughter": joy, fun, the joke proper, and flippancy, all of which "can be planned and produced by any person" save "joy [which]can be received only from the One whose presence is absolute joy" (53).

The author recognizes that not all laughter is positive, concluding that "Each time I laugh, I am either sharing my laughter with God or with the devil" (435).

The author concludes, "Laughter alone, therefore, is not enough for life...On the other hand, if our laughter is submitted to something greater, to a higher end, then it will never be able to lead us astray" (437).

What I took away from the book (besides dozens of great quotations) is that when used for a higher purpose, laughter can be something holy, a manifestation of being tapped into the joy that radiates from the Eternal Father. Laughter and the seriousness of holiness are not incongruent.

The downside to this book is that it is a "recast" edition of an academic piece. The publisher added a catchy new title, cool front cover, and interesting-sounding index, but none of these changes can mask the fact that this is a high scholarly work not written for the average reader.

The text is seriously dense. The only thing I can compare it to is trying to run in quicksand--just when you think you've moved your right toe an inch, you realize you've actually moved it backwards and might just have to flip back and read the whole chapter again because you've lost the writer's train of thought.

This book is not life changing by any stretch of the imagination, but it is quite interesting concerning the place laughter has in a Christian's life.

**I receive no compensation from Thomas Nelson for my review other than a complementary copy of the book.

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