Good Humor


“There’s a crack in everything” – Leonard Cohen – “that’s how the light gets in.” In dark times, we crave light. Where is the light coming in?  In friendship and music, in Sunday fellowship and worship. In love. In family and in good days by the Bay. A crack of light puts us in good humor. That’s no laughing matter.

For a moment or longer it saves us from drowning. There’s an alarming list of realities that can drown us. The world is dark, but not without cracks — not without joy and smiles, mindful self-compassion, songs and sonatas, Otto’s new shoes and little Eunice’s smile. These are respite from the dark.  

Late night political parodies lighten spirits. We need to fight for health care and also practice love and good humor. Our Sundays invoke Biblical themes, and I’ve wondered if the Good Book is only somber. A friend answered conclusively. There is wonderful comedy in the tale of Jonah being swallowed by a Whale — and then mercifully spit out. God growing Jonah a tree to get him some shade is somber-free, silly.

Jesus cures a man’s blindness – a serious thing. But he rubs the poor man’s eyes with mud and spit.  Why not just cure with a wave of the hand?  Any miracle puts on a show, but this mud and spit business is extreme. The added touch gives us breathing room.  

Am I irreverent?  Matthew 25, our reading for today, makes me smile. It’s bizarre. The core is serious, of course. The passage to Heaven is like a wedding where things might – and do – get unhinged. Will I be prepared, like the five wise bridesmaids? Or unprepared, like the foolish ones? But the wider setting is something else.   

The groom is late — the bride, nowhere to be found. What kind of wedding is that? The bridesmaids fall asleep. A bad sign. It’s dark when they awake. Half of them forget to bring oil for their lamps. Worse, bride, family, and friends, all fail to show. The groom is heard in the dark — then he disappears . . . did he forget HIS light? and reappears. Cat and mouse. It’s utter confusion, overall, a disaster. Getting to heaven is as rough as getting through this wedding – or as getting a camel through the eye of a needle!

Of course, humorless scholars might protest. Back in the day weddings always began well after midnight. Bride, groom, and guests were always in hiding, and typically lost their way. Back in the day, mud and spit were common home remedy for blindness.  But while scholars dig, thinking of Jonah or of this botched wedding can lighten my load. These moments are good for the soul.

To be only anxious or melancholy is disaster.  It’s true, sadness and mourning keep our loved ones present — And good humor keeps loves present, too. Gospels bring good news, bring joy into sadness. They let light come through the cracks. 

It takes skill to sense when and how to laugh and when to be outraged. There’s plenty to grieve and be angry about. But too much melancholy leaves us ineffective, angry, vengeful. Good humor is agile and lets in the light.

 A Woman’s Protest Rock Group, Pussy Riot, from Russia, was jailed for two years by Mr. Putin.  MSNBC just interviewed a leader visiting Manhattan. With a laugh she tells Laurence O’Donnell that on her return to Russia she’ll continue protesting. The prospect of more jail doesn’t faze her. What inspires her good natured courage? Believe it or not, she says she’s inspired and takes courage from American protesters of ’68, her favorite year in history. She lionizes the Yippees — Jerry Rubin and others who protested with zany stunts. She said that even in jail, she laughed. She beams a slant of light.

 In the search for survivors after 911 one rescue worker was unusually popular. Teams were picking through rubble looking for survivors. They knew that at any moment it all might shift, trapping them or worse. This charismatic worker had a loud, irreverent sense of humor. He was a stream of jokes and off-color remarks. The darkness needed to be humanized. He knew how to do it.

The dark Ingmar Bergman film, The Seventh Seal, gives us a knight and his squire returning from a crusade through plague and disaster. The knight is heroically morbid and plays chess with death. The squire is good humored and brings us wit, liveliness, and neighborly care. They run into a young woman about to be burned at the stake. The knight broods over fate; the squire offers her water. They come upon a sleeping man by the path. Jens approaches to ask directions. He tries shaking the sleeper awake.  Pulling back a blanket, he startles. It’s a skull with eye-sockets empty.   

The Knight asks, “What did he say?”

Jens: “Nothing.” 

— “Was he mute?” 

— “No, in fact he was quite eloquent.” 

— “Oh?”

— “Yes, quite eloquent. The trouble is that what he had to say was . . . most depressing!”

The squire’s sardonic response lightens an otherwise ghoulish scene.

Good humor embodies joyous communion. Dante’s great poem, The Divine Comedy, includes the hell of crucifixion and the promise of endless joy and communion.  Comedy, here, is the good humor of holding hands at a happy wedding, where each is wedded to all, and all are wedded to Christ and the Father. Comedy is the communion of an infinitely extended happy family. Melancholy is left behind; we relish each other’s embrace. We anticipate the Gospel promise of timeless communion in moments of good humor, new birth, fellow-feeling, and wedding feasts.  It’s never too late.

I’m grateful for zany David Letterman. He’s no Dante but he’s a rescue worker in the rubble of a White House collapsed. He writes “If this guy was running Dairy Queen, he’d be gone.” To smile is to shift from the half-life of melancholy bitterness to the full-life of gratitude and good cheer. In song, laughter, and good humor, we’re born-again.

Especially in dark times, we relish the light of friendship and music, of Sunday fellowship, love, and family — and good days by the Bay. Good humor is serious business.  Let’s seek the cracks that let the light get in.




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