Sunday, February 5, 2012

Reflections Upon Laughter

It's a funny thing, but most people who know me in an official capacity (that is, the office), think of me as a very serious and focused individual.  This makes sense, of course, because work is our professional side.  I can't imagine having my identity tied-up with my profession of number-crunching.  In fact, I'd say that my work right now I think is a sure sign that God indeed has a marvelous sense of humor.

For me, at least, humor is an important outlet in keeping things in their proper perspective.  In the past, I was able to explore the humorous side in my children's books: Tristan's Travels and Toupee Mice (coming later this year).  Today, I have my silly blog: the Restless Auditor (for an older audience).  I suppose this kind of thing might be referred to as sublimation by some out there--e.g. I can't wear a dead chicken on my head at the office, so writing silly and zany stuff is a positive outlet.

There's probably some truth in that, but I think, in a more significant sense, good humor offers us a glimpse of ourselves in a larger context than our daily life.  Let's face it, being able to laugh at yourself is certainly a sure sign in favor of sanity.  In this day and age, I'd say that humor gives us both this ability to stand back and laugh, which comes down to perspective and balance, as well helping us cope with uncomfortable or stressful situations.

As a child, for instance, I relied on humor as a way to see me through childhood as an overweight kid of divorced parents in a town that I felt, at times, was a backwards joke.  (My views have softened since on my hometown.)  Faith was more important, but the humor seemed to go hand-in-hand with it at times.  It was like God was reminding me that I would not be in junior high forever.  Being the class clown was not always a good experience, but it was a tool to help me cope.  

I think too often we try to exclude or push away humor as unimportant or trivial or in bad taste.  Of course, many times humor does cross that line of good taste, but it doesn't have to do so.  I have a number of very serious-minded friends who seem to avoid reading fiction or humor, because, I think, they see it as serving no purpose.  I guess a laugh or a good story are not a purpose in and of themselves, pointing to the mystery and depth of us as people created in the image of God.

It's interesting to pause and reflect on how great Catholic writers of the past have used humor.  Flannery O'Connor's characters, for instance, are cases in point of tragic humor.  For instance, who can forget Hazel Motes in "Wise Blood?"  He refuses to acknowledge that everything he does is a frantic search or flailing for Christ's truth.  His desperation becomes comic as much as it is tragic at its core.  Redemption is something Hazel can't bring his conscious to ever accept, but his subconscious certainly recognizes its presence.  

I'd say that there is also a deep humor running through much of G.K. Chesterton's works.  It's like he's pointing fun at the world, while, at the same time, acknowledging the seriousness of it all, as well.  Particularly strong  examples of this would be The Man Who was Thursday and The Everlasting Man.  Chesterton and Flannery O'Connor aren't the only great Catholic writers to be associated with humor--Hilaire Belloc would be another whose cutting satire and irony reflected a greater truth.  (Someday, I'd like to talk to Dr. Joseph Pearce about Shakespeare's use of humor.)

Of course, not all humor is going to rise to such a powerful level, but it can, and it does.  Laughter can be a cathartic tool in helping people deal with hardship, and it doesn't have to be limited to a clown visiting the hospital.  Humor and laughter aren't just for children either.  I'll conclude with an observation from Chesterton.  That is, God's humor is evidenced by His creation.  In other words, if you watch some birds or animals (or neighbors) you can't come away with any other sense that God must be smiling .  An entirely serious God would have no business creating the clown fish or tufted puffin, after all.

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