I just started reading James Martin, S.J.’s newest book, Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor and Laughter are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life.
I was excited as soon as I saw this book being advertised, for I have long bemoaned what Martin himself has experienced – that “many professional religious people (priests, ministers, rabbis, and the like) as well as some devout believers in general give te impression that being religious means being dour, serious, or even grumpy.” Certainly not all – I know many religious and lay that are joyful people…but also far too many that fit Martin’s description.
Martin begins by talking about the meanings of humor, laughter and joy from both secular and religious perspectives. As to humor and laughter, there is no significant difference in the secular and religiuos approaches.
With respect to joy, however, the religious understanding is very different from the secular one. Martin writes,
Joy is not simply a fleeting feeling or an evanescent emotion; it is a deep-seated result of one’s connection to God. Although the more secular defintiion of joy may sometimes describe one’s emotional response to an object or event, wonderful though it may be (a new job, for example), religious joy is always about a relationship. Joy has an object and that object is God.
Understood that way, it is not difficult to understand why we see joy on the faces of so many holy people – I think of the way St. Francis is often described, or of my own experience meeting the Dalai Lama. It is also easy to undertsand why joy is one of the traditional fruits of the Holy spirit – a gift, Martin suggests, we ignore at our peril.
I’m looking forward to reading the rest of this book.