A Priest Backs Out of the Room
My new friend and I are laughing so hard we are wiping away tears. I can barely catch my breath. I sit in a chair close to her at the end of the bed. A light knock on the door, and a priest cautiously enters. Even in my non-Catholic state of being, I start apologizing right away, "I'm... so....sorry." My friend hops up and tries to explain, but the priest quietly says, "I'll come back," and ever so cautiously and slowly starts stepping backwards out of the room. We have been chastised.
Which, not surprisingly, only makes us laugh harder. She gasps, "I think... I might... lose my job."
My new friend I've immediately felt a connection with is the hospice worker assigned to our family. We're in my grandma's hospital room. The family has gathered and watched over my grandma in her last days. I'm alone with the hospice worker and grandma as I'm telling her stories of my grandma, and she is sharing stories of her family. We are having a holy moment. A holy moment full of laughter. A holy moment the priest decides is too much, too awkward, too messy to stay in.
I meet people who are Very Serious About Themselves while I am still young and it confuses me. I do not understand fully the motivation behind their Seriousness. For instance, I know Mrs Nelson takes herself Very Seriously. I'm too young to understand it's that she has a role and she will protect it. She plays the organ at our church. I am in junior high and am designated as the piano player. Mrs Nelson plays hymns solemnly. I do not. I think they should be joyful and happy. How do you say you're going to heaven in a 6/8 rhythm and be sad about it??? Aren't you grown ups trying to teach me this is a GOOD thing? A GOD thing?
I am reprimanded to slow down. I write across the top of the sheet music, "Play like a funeral dirge." Mrs Nelson sees it. She does not find this funny. She tells on me to my fatherPastor (or, as I liked to call him, fatherFather because this is FUNNIER.). I am made to call and apologize to Mrs Nelson.
I play hymns even faster after that. Some glad morning and all.
When I am older, I meet more Very Serious People. I start to realize motivations behind being serious. Most of it seems to me to come from fear. Fear about: Not being Somebody, getting it wrong, self-doubt, judgment from others.
I start to realize, in the church, being serious can come from a misunderstanding of God: Maybe because of the church they were raised in or how they were taught about God, or because they haven't read the Bible. It does not take long before you realize a God who includes a story about servants standing outside the bathroom door waiting for their king for so long, someone asks, "Should we, like, check on him?" in His Holy Bible (Judges 3:24-26) or a God who talks to a scaredy-cat prophet who hides by threshing wheat in a hole in the ground, or a God who uses the most incongruous people to spread His gospel has a sense of humor.
Maybe he could use this mess of myself as well then. There is hope yet! And this makes me laugh because this is a very good joke.
As I get older, I meet those who make me laugh. They become those I most respect and love. I know they have suffered, as we all do. But instead of digging in and getting More Serious, they teach me to hold the world lightly. They teach me that laughing is okay. Laughing is not making light of what we experience. Laughter actually acknowledges the pain we feel. It helps point out the differentiation between the holy and the mundane. It points out how seriously we all take ourselves and how silly this is.
As I get older, I cry more. I experience more that brings me to my knees in all seriousness before God. I start to understand the depths of sorrow, despair and the utter magnitude of what we are facing. I realize how small I am compared to this sorrow. I start to want to fight this. And the only way I know how is to acknowledge it, but also to strive against it. And the best way I know how is to focus on the temporariness of this all. And the eternality of what's ahead. This includes laughing at the good gifts God gives us, and sensing the joy of what's coming. (2 Cor 4:18)
I sit at the end of the hospital bed, laughing with the hospice worker because I DO take it seriously. I honor my grandma by telling a story of her classy, dignified, giving self who also wasn't afraid to be mischievous, who would give a little wink at her granddaughter to let me know she was in on the joke. I laugh because I want death to know I am not afraid. I laugh because God has given me an appreciation for the incongruities of life. I laugh because I know I am nothing and yet my humanity keeps trying to be something. This is funny.
I laugh because I take things very seriously. The priest backs out of the room. Selah.
“I do not like seriousness.
I think it is irreligious.
The man who takes himself too seriously
is the man who makes an idol of everything." ― G.K. Chesterton