Thursday, January 21, 2010

Humour and Healing

As you may have noticed, I believe in the therapeutic value of humour.  And it seems I'm not alone.

There's a marvelous article from Dialogue magazine that was sent to me (thanks Steve!), written by Bob Ballenger, that spoke all about the Master's sense of humour.  To see the whole article, just add one to the last number in the URL line (5 becomes  6, then 7, then 8, until you reach the end).

I am also reminded of something my dear friend, Mary, said on her deathbed.  She said that she felt the Master was not happy about being seen as this imposing icon on a wall, and that He wished to be remembered as a loving Grandfather.  Of course, this was only her own opinion, and should not to be regarded as anything other than a pilgrim's-type note.

This view of the Master that Bob and Mary shared, however, struck a chord with me.  The more I examined His life, the more I could see His humour shining, struggling to get out, to leap off the page and into our hearts.  The more I read, the more I began to understand Ruhiyyih Khanum's statement that we should take the Faith seriously, but not ourselves.

It seems, though, that we have this stereotype about how laughter may sometimes seem inappropriate.  Many of the books about the Central Figures of the Faith often read, "Lo, a Child was born unto the house of Mirza Buzurg", instead of in a language that is more approachable by many of us.  Now please don't forget that one of my favorite books is the Dawn-Breakers.  There is a place for that type of writing style, and I cherish it.

This also has nothing to do with the style of language employed by the Guardian or the Universal House of Justice.  They use the perfect style of language for their needs.  In fact, it is often stated that rather than re-translating the Sacred Texts, and simplifying them from the exalted style of language used, we should increase our education in order to better read and understand that style.  This is one of the many gifts that the Ruhi curriculum has given us: a simple tool to better understand the exalted style used in the Writings.

No, what I'm talking about is all the other literature out there.  There are some marvelous biographies of the Central Figures that are being written and published in a more common style of language, and I love them.  They are helping us see these Figures as real people, and therby helping us gain a greater appreciation of what They have done.

But this use of humour also goes deeper than that.

I remember one time when I was asked to sit in on a Ruhi Book 1 study circle.  The group was in the middle of the third unit, Life and Death, and it was very tense.  The group was so uncomfortable.

I happened to have been forewarned about this.  The reason was that a member of the group, the tutor's nephew (or grandson, I can't remember which), had recently committed suicide, and this was the first time they were coming back together as a group.

They started with some prayers, and tried to go into the book, but it just wasn't happening.  Oh, they were reading the words and answering the questions, but it was just too mechanical.  There was no spirit about it.

After some time, I finally stopped them, and asked what was going on, as nobody had said anything about this unfortunate incident up to this point.

Not knowing that I was already aware of what had occurred, one of them "clued me in" by explaining about the tragedy.

At that point I turned to the tutor, who was, and still is, a very dear friend and asked, "Didn't you explain to him that there is no practice for this unit?"

They all froze, as sure as if I had doused them with liquid nitrogen.

And then the tutor started to smile.  Tears began to well up in her eyes, and she began to giggle.  Well, that was it.  The on-rush of laughter just gushed forth as the tears streamed down.

The nervousness over such a comment gave way as everyone began to laugh and cry.

For the next hour or two, all they did was talk about their feelings, tell stories of this dearly departed soul, say prayers, laugh, cry, hug.  Oh yes, that's "all" we did.

And then, after we had spent ourselves out in this manner, the tutor turned back to the book and re-read the quote that I had so "rudely" interrupted.

Now, in light of this sad event, the quote took on more relevancy and made a deeper impression upon all there (myself included).

Of course, I would not suggest using this particular method of humour in most circumstances.  It can be quite dangerous and really hurt someone's heart, but in this particular instance, I happened to know the tutor very well and knew she needed the excuse to laugh.  I also trusted that she would know my intention was pure, and not malicious.

But let us remember the words attributed to 'Abdu'l-Baha: My home is the home of joy and delight. My home is the home of laughter and exultation.

He has said that it is "good to laugh", for "laughter is spiritual relaxation", but we should never laugh at the expense of others, lest we sadden their heart.  Our laughter should spring from our joy, our love, our sheer pleasure at creation.

We should be happy, and wholeheartedly, for 'Abdu'l-Baha wants us to be happy, "to laugh, smile and rejoice in order that others may be made happy by you".

And it can help heal wounds that would, otherwise, fester.

Yeah, there's nothing like a good laugh.

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