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Between Heaven and Mirth, Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life by James Martin, S.J., Harper One, N.Y., 2011, 263 pp.


On Wednesday last, Father Joe began his homily for the Feast of the Assumption by asking us whether we had ever expressed delight and joy in prayer as Mary and Elizabeth had done in the Visitation encounter from Luke’s Gospel. It’s a good question. Nowadays, there seems to be more angst than joy in daily life, let alone cause for delight and laughter. Were you the one I heard saying to two giggling nine-year-olds sitting on the wall, “What’s so funny?” Perhaps we’re missing something in all this.


There are still a few weeks left of the summertime, and you might want to make a point of setting aside a little bit of time to relax and read a good book. It might just reset your focus and it’s not self-indulgence. Here’s the book: Between Heaven and Mirth, by James Martin, S.J. Through a multitude of anecdotes, jokes, and humorous incidents, he demonstrates that a faith-filled, healthy spiritual life cannot survive or thrive without the presence of humor and joy. We might be surprised to find that the Bible contains many a funny incident, occasions when folks laughed or cheered. And injunctions to be joyful abound, even when circumstances would seem to demand other responses. So it is with life, and those who are most joyful are those whose company we are most likely to prefer.


We can recall example of saints who were cheerful, but the author has found treasures of humor and joking among them, even at the point of death, like St. Lawrence, who is said to have advised his torturers to turn him over on the grill because he was already cooked on the other side. Some of these choice pieces may be fables, but there is no doubt that they arise from lives of faith.


Joy is, of course, a gift from God; it is evident that it is available within one’s individual life, one’s vocation, one’s service to others, returning to the giver at least as much as his generous, cheerful spirit has poured out. It is essential to prayer, where it provides deep richness to one’s spiritual life. And here is where Father Joe’s homily last Wednesday crosses paths with Chapter Nine of Father Martin’s book: “Rejoice Always! Introducing Joy, Humor, and Laughter into Your Prayer.” Unlike the caricature of the religious person who is glum, grim, and gloomy, the faith-filled person is one who is aware and intentional with regard to the connection she enjoys with God, and is delighted and grateful for the possibilities it offers. Mary’s “Magnificat” radiates such a faith.


Maureen F. McDermott