I spent several days this month with a wonderful group of pastors exploring how improvisation – especially the skills learned for comedy improv – can also help us with spiritual formation. This is true in the church, where most of my colleagues are currently serving – and it is equally true for those of us who love contemplation, spiritual direction, and leaning on God for our individual discernment.
So critical for all of us who sometimes take ourselves and our work too seriously, it was a time of play and laughter. I don’t think we can do God’s work without laughter. God brings us joy and sometimes that joy just bubbles out.
One of our more erudite pastor friends at the workshop mentioned Theotokos, which is a fancy name for Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and generally translates to “she who gave birth to God.” It’s a very serious concept, especially for Orthodox Christians, and even we Presbyterians hold it sacredly when we learn about it in seminary.
But it has been a long time since seminary for most of us, and inevitably someone mentioned that he had heard “Theo Tacos” –Tacos for God? In God? Of God? It didn’t matter. Through the laughter, we agreed that our improv stage group name should be Theo Tacos. I’m guessing you are not laughing as hard as we did, but our moment of laughter will carry us through many moments of difficulty and pain in our ministry.
Mary Ann McKibben Dana, one of our teachers for the improv workshop, shared that her work with improv is not universally appreciated among people in the Church. She has a book on the topic coming out in the spring, but some groups have suggested to her that it is a frivolous topic. This makes me sad, first that they would say that to her as if she has no feelings, but also that they do not see the joyful abandon with which God so often approaches creation. It reminds me of the Pharisees rulebooks, taken so seriously as to place burdens on the people of God.
God is, in fact, quite playful. When you study Greek, you begin to see how Jesus was very funny much of the time. There are so many little inside jokes in both the Old and New Testament, that I feel completely confident in saying that spiritual formation may be one of our most serious undertakings – and it is also one of the places where we are least served by taking ourselves too seriously.
As we build our relationship with God, we find that we can laugh together just as we can cry together. In fact, if we cannot do one, we probably cannot do the other either, just as is true in our relationships with the people we love most. Holding the humor in life at arm’s length means holding intimacy and connection at arm’s length as well.
A month or so ago, I had a very catty thought about a woman whom I felt had wronged me. I never said it out loud and certainly not to her, but it didn’t feel right even as a thought, and I cried out to God in prayer: “Oh, that wasn’t very nice was it?” I swear I heard in my head God’s wry and very sarcastic response: “You think?” It was as if I could see the raised eyebrow and the smirk. And then we had a little chat about the million and one catty remarks I had already thought that morning.
God has a sense of humor too. I’ll bet he’s laughing along with the Theo Tacos as we go about our busy lives with a little more laughter this week. I pray for a little more laughter for you as well!
What kinds of things do you think make God laugh? Have you heard about inside jokes in the Bible? Do you think God has a sense of humor? How do you share laughter with the Divine? If you go to Church, do you find space for laughter with God there? What is the relationship between humor and joy in your Spiritual life? What are some other “frivolous” topics that you think may nevertheless relate to spiritual formation?
Mary Ann McKibben Dana’s book will be out next year and you can find out when by following her blog at The Blue Room. The other teacher for our workshop was Marthame Sanders, who does a wonderful podcast on Art, Inspiration & Justice: aijcast. You can follow him as well. His interview with Mary Ann can be found here.