Many years ago, Robin Williams played a grownup Peter Pan in the wonderful movie Hook. As a corporate lawyer, he is constantly absent from his family because of work and he no longer has a sense of humour to speak of. When his children get abducted by Captain Hook (played marvellously by Dustin Hoffman) and carried off to Neverland, Peter is forced not only to remember who he is, but to recover his childlike sense of play, mischief, creativity, and joy. It’s a wonderful movie and the message is still as relevant today as when the movie was first released in1991—perhaps more so.
Faith Without Fun
In her book God Is No Laughing Matter, Julia Cameron vividly describes what she calls ‘Very Spiritual People’ of all religions and traditions. She notes how very serious they are about their spiritual path, how their view of God tends to be rather dark, cold, and demanding, and how little sense of humour these people seem to have. I have to admit that I have been one of these Very Spiritual People far too often, and the loss of playfulness, creativity, and fun that results when I fall into that attitude is always harmful to me and my loved ones.
I’m not sure how we came to believe that religious devotion requires us to reject laughter, mischief, and play, but it does no one any good. A humourless God who frowns on light-heartedness and who cannot handle satirical critiques of religion is a distorted shadow of the God revealed in Christ. The Gospels must be read with an awareness of Jesus’ sense of humour or we miss the point. There must have been a winkle in his eye and a smile on his lips as he spoke of camels going through the eyes of needles and logs carried around in people’s eyes. Jesus clearly loved children and taught that they were the prophets who reveal God’s Reign. You cannot instruct your followers to become like children if you are opposed to laughter and play.
Our Playful Universe
You don’t have to look very far to see that play, laughter, and absurdity are built into the fabric of the universe. We are learning that many animals are capable of laughter and there are so many curious and joyous ‘coincidences’ in the cosmos that its hard to deny that the Universal Consciousness has a sense of humour. Not all evolutionary adaptations are purely about survival and some adaptations seem absolutely absurd and so funny. It’s impossible to observe the natural world and not be overcome with laughter at times.
We also know that laughter and play are essential to physical, emotional, and mental health in human beings. So why would it be more spiritual to be less playful and to laugh less? What difference would it make to how we treat people of different belief systems if we embraced laughter as a spiritual practice? I suspect that it would be much harder to persecute, reject, or do violence to someone from a different religion if our own spiritual practice included more laughter.
If we are to become like children, if we are to embrace the curiosity, wonder, and joy that children seem to be born with, we need to build play and laughter into our spirituality, not as a nice-to-have but as an essential part of our practice. What difference would it make to you if you were more intentional about sustaining laughter and play in your life?
Play As Spiritual Practice
I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how to play and laugh, but if we are to be intentional it can be helpful to have some reminders about things we can do deliberately to help us laugh and play more:
- It may seem strange, but we all know that our sense of humour and how we play differs from person to person. It can be really helpful to identify what play means to us and to be aware of what makes us laugh. We don’t always recognise that something as simple as laughter can be so varied, but when we can appreciate the differences in our humour it becomes easier to appreciate all the other ways we differ from each other.
- We often speak about nurturing mindfulness and awareness in our spirituality. Usually that means that we are intentional about opening to awe and connectedness. But it can also be wonderfully enlivening to nurture a deeper awareness of the absurd and funny realities in our lives and world. One way to do this is to set the goal for a set period of time to find something to laugh at every day. You may want to try this as a spiritual practice in the near future.
- Finally, if laughter and play are important parts of our spiritual growth and life, then it is important that we make space to laugh and play as much as we can. It may sound like the opposite of fun, but something as simple as setting aside some time every week to watch a funny show, read a funny book, play a game, or engage in some creative activity can bring about so many positive changes in our mental and physical health.
What’s Your Kind Of Fun?
What does fun look like for you? What makes you laugh? How do you like to play? How do you nurture laughter, fun, and mischief in your own life? And what would it mean for you to make laughter, play, and creativity a more intentional part of your spiritual practice? Let’s share ideas with one another and start a small outbreak of laughter in our corner of the world!
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