The funny thing about the spiritual life is how funny it can be. God sometimes surprises us with out-of-the-blue winks that bring us to laughter and remind us of the joy life can be. Even on our most depressing days our eye catches a couple squirrels chasing each other and we smile. We see a baby make eye contact with us and we remember the simple pleasure of a smile. These moments are sometimes fleeting, but they are constant reminders as to how God reaches out to us in joy.
My wife and I occasionally pray Evening Prayer together from the Church’s Liturgy of the Hours. Several months ago there was a canticle from St Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (2:6-11) about how every knee will bend and all will proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord. Sarah and I go back and forth taking turns reading each strophe. I read the last one. Here’s how it looks in the breviary:
The last line is in all caps. It’s the only line in the entire breviary that’s completely capitalised. And being my 21st century self, understanding that all caps tends to mean shouting, I shouted the last line: “JESUS CHRIST IS LORD!”
Sarah and I started laughing so hard. As my laughter subsided, Sarah’s continued. As we went on with the prayer Sarah could barely pray her parts because of her laughing. And her laughing caused me to start laughing again. An outsider might find this a bit irreverent. Prayer and liturgy are supposed to be about solemnity and seriousness, right? Our inability to keep it together reminded me of a few times in the Jesuit novitiate when we were either at Mass or praying the Liturgy of the Hours and someone started laughing. Maybe it was because someone’s stomach growled or some were dwelling on a joke from earlier. One time when praying for dead Jesuits on the anniversary of their death the name “Father Harry Ball” came up in the necrology and the entire chapel erupted in laughter. It was hard to keep solemnity for the remainder of our time in chapel…
The purpose of prayer is to connect with God in relationship, and it often involves emotion like sorrow, lamentation, feelings of gratitude, and calm. But it also can involve joyfulness. And why not laughter? When Sarah and I were laughing through Evening Prayer I felt as if God was laughing with us. We could proclaim indeed the joyful message that JESUS CHRIST IS LORD with full gusto. I believe that was printed in all caps for a reason.
The Psalms are filled with calls to shout for joy. “All you that are righteous, shout for joy for what the Lord has done” (Psalm 33:1, GNT). As Mary’s “soul proclaimed the greatness of the Lord” in her Magnificat, we ought to ensure our prayer finds some joy and we find some joy in our prayer. Christianity is a faith founded on the joyful truth that God came to be with us as human and then rose from the dead, granting us eternal life. “Gospel” means good news! The Fourth Week of the Spiritual Exercises is all about the joy of God’s love.
Are you living joyfully in God and shouting for joy? Go ahead, shout it out joyfully. JESUS CHRIST IS LORD! Then laugh in gratitude.
Listen to an audio version of this post…
Music by Kevin MacLeod