Friday, July 13, 2012

True Laughter

“Mom, you wanna hear my true laugh sometime?” my four-year-old son asked my wife this morning. I asked him what a true laugh was. He told me that you cross your arms over your chest and then someone pushes on your stomach. Then you laugh your true laugh. I like that in his mind this was a promise of some future event. For me this is something special to anticipate. The true laugh—a future revelation, something like glory—“the glory that shall be revealed in us” that Paul talks about—something so poignant and so powerful, so heartbreaking and so healing, that we can’t quite abide it yet. But “the vail shall be taken away” and the laugh that moves us, makes us, will be heard.

Jesus, who we know wept, said, “Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh.” So there may well one day be a scripture that reads, “Jesus laughed.” Maybe it’s in the lost book of Enoch.

I think he does laugh, because laughter is holy and beautiful. Heber C. Kimball said of God, “I am perfectly satisfied that my Father and my God is a cheerful, pleasant, lively, and good-natured Being.  Why?  Because I am cheerful, pleasant, lively, and good-natured when I have His Spirit.  That is one reason why I know; and another is ― the Lord said, through Joseph Smith, ‘I delight in a glad heart and a cheerful countenance.’  That arises from the perfection of His attributes; He is a jovial, lively person, and a beautiful man.” How’s that for a fitting description of the Man of Holiness?

I learned something about God’s laugh one day when I was pretty newlywed. We went camping with my wife’s family, and as we sat around the campfire my sister-in-law (who’s deeply funny, a soul with a good appreciation of humor) was making my father-in-law laugh. My father-in-law’s laugh taught me about God. He has this joyful, deep, rolling, booming, wonderful laugh. I thought, “God must laugh like that. Surely he does.” Shortly thereafter we had a message on our answering machine from my father-in-law. We had recorded something that made him laugh. The message was of him laughing for a good thirty seconds. I saved it and would replay it when I felt down. When it got erased on accident, I felt I had lost something of value.

I’ve thought a lot about how a perfect person like Jesus must have a perfect sense of humor. He must be wonderfully funny.

A third-century BC Egyptian creation myth says, “When [God] burst out laughing there was light. When he burst out laughing the second time the waters were born; at the seventh burst of laughter, the soul was born.” The Egyptians knew something of the creative power of laughter. It engenders joy in others—an infectious spreading of light. And it brings things and people together.

Last semester I had a class with three special needs students—all really bright and good and all. One day, one of them, Seth—a kid made of light with a great lisp—made a comment that delighted me. Delighted: “I liked last time’s lesson.” “Yeah?” “Samson.” “Yeah.” “I can imagine you growing out your hair like Samson and getting really strong.” “Oh.” (Pause) “I’m not calling you weak. . . . You’re . . . [he takes in my twig-like arms, averts his eyes, and tries to swallow the lie] . . . strong . . . [decides he better not lie in seminary] . . . in faith.” The class erupted into laughter, and it brought us together. We loved each other more after that.

One of my favorite sounds in the world is my wife’s laugh. My life is a quest to make her laugh. Her laugh is like a sudden summer rain that refreshes and cools the world and reflects the world drippingly anew. It’s like a flight of pelicans off the coast of California. It makes you catch your breath. It’s hard to describe. The best is to laugh with her. Therein is communion.

And then there’s my children’s laughter. My three-month-old daughter has begun to laugh. She seems to sense that there is something in it having to do with communion. She’ll look you in the eyes with her dark-bright stare and laugh tentatively, just to see if it works. When you laugh back, she laughs harder. Surely something so lovely will take place in the eternal worlds.

The fourteenth-century Sufi poet Hafiz wrote:

Now let’s get down to the real reason
Why we sit together and breathe
And begin the laughing, the divine laughing,
Like great heroic women
And magnificent
Strong men.

The other night I was tucking my children into bed, telling them a story. I hit on a gag that made them laugh. And I used it over and over. I couldn’t get enough of hearing their laughter. We snuggled and laughed. For me, it was the real reason. It was heaven.

I came home from work today to find the older three of my four children watching “Bedknobs and Broomsticks.” They were laughing with such merriment, I just stood to let it wash over me for a minute. When I got upstairs I found that my two-year-old, who has a manic, wild sort of laugh and an almost-constantly-smiling face, and who is made of thunder and lightning and sugar, had taken a tub of Vaseline and smeared it all over the guest bathroom—floor, sink, mirror, faucet, walls. And we have a guest coming tonight. But I had a hard time putting a stop to the laughter. So I cleaned it up.

There’s something vulnerable about laughing, too. It’s a sort of unveiling of the soul. Maybe that’s why I have to wait for the true laugh in me to be revealed. I need to let go of all self-consciousness and sense of self-importance. I need to let go of masks and defenses and facades and let myself laugh. Because life is a sort of sacred hilarity. One day the laugh behind it all will be revealed.

And when I am that laugh, I hope that those who remain behind on this world of sadness and delight will feel it in part. I hope there’s lots of laughter at my funeral—because I have lived a life of joy and connectedness and humor and glee. I hope there’s something real and human to laugh about—that the stories will be funny. And the laugh that I am will join the chorus of raucous, gentle, holy laughter. It will be nice, don’t you think?

1 comment:

  1. Laughter, the kind that shows true joy and pleasure, is of God! Holy strawberries, reading this makes me giddy! What a glorious day it will be when the walls of my home resonate with the laughter of my children, my husband, and me. And that day that I find the man who will bring out my true laughter? Yeah, that will be pretty incredible too. :)