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Surprised by Laughter

When did you last laugh? Do you remember it? It’s been some time since I had a real deep and soul cleansing laugh. You know the kind of laugh I’m talking about? The kind of laugh that immediately bottoms out your voice, that bends you over, and threatens to make you wet your pants. It’s that kind of laugh you never want to end, but that you know has to end or you’ll literally pass out or rupture your abdomen! Laughter like that is bound in a moment by the people present and has little to do with words. Laughter like that can’t be explained to people who weren’t present - that’s why we say, “You had to be there.” This laughter happens in our bodies, it sneaks up on us, and enters into our chest and gut before our minds have a chance to filter it out.


It’s hard to laugh alone. It’s hard to genuinely laugh surrounded by so many virtual faces watching you over Zoom, especially when one of those faces is your own. It’s hard to laugh when there is so much uncertainty about the future: how will I manage work, childcare, school, relationships? How will my needs for connection be met or my desire for physical proximity in a world so physically distanced. It’s hard to laugh when every day there’s a new story of a black woman, man or child being murdered or dealt with unjustly, and it’s hard to laugh while thousands die needlessly due to COVID. It’s hard to laugh while people lose their jobs, and it’s hard to laugh when you’re anxious about losing yours. It’s hard to laugh when you're overworked, and when an extended sabbath is nowhere in sight, and God, rest, self are unfamiliar.


Sometimes I feel miles from laughter. So much has been lost in this sobering time due to Covid-19. I’ve lost my sense of safety and naiveté. I’ve lost my sense of connection, simple conversations and even small talk which can serve as the seedbed of new friendships. I’ve lost ample hugs at the Newberg Bakery, laughter at whiskey Wednesdays, and personal retreats at the Trappist Abbey where I always could find myself again. I am sad when I think of all I’ve lost, but the tears have not quite surfaced. Maybe I’m still in shock. Maybe after five months it’s still not set in that life has changed.


One evening, a number of months ago, pre-COVID, I was wallowing in shame. I was leaning over the kitchen sink stuck in a cycle of blaming, both myself and others, for something I’ve long since forgotten. For whatever reason, and I don’t recall, my wife Liz came up behind me and swatted me on my ass. It wasn’t a hard swat, but firm, and enough to break the shame seal and send me into deep convulsing laughter! I laughed and laughed until I was crying. And then I cried and cried until I was breathing deeper than I had all day. I was no longer flattened by shame and the breath of life filled my lungs.


Joy and sadness, laughter and tears are old friends. We say in Deep Water, you cannot have one without the other - both have roots in the connection and loss we experience. And we cannot force either to visit. All we can do is wait, stay present to their possible arrival. You don't need to do anything to find them because they aren't gone - just under ground for now being renewed. Wait patiently to be surprised by laughter, and rest knowing this time of numbness and waiting is carving out depth in you.


Receive these words from Black Liturgies (find/follow on Instagram)


God who sings,

Did you laugh with your followers as you reclined around the table? We know of your tears; and we know of your rejoicing, your joy, and delight. As we find this in you, could you sow it in us? And when the time is ripe, turn our tears inside out into laughter. Let us find their insides and outsides equally beautiful, never exalting the holiness of one over the other. Lord, we are ready to laugh, but it often echoes in emptiness. Give us people to share in our laughter--let us protect joy like an ember in the night.


Be at peace.


Amen