“As an added precaution, smoke detectors have been fitted in the toilets”. I love hearing the air stewardess say that line! It’s so incongruous that grown men and women, having achieved the technological miracle of flight (and having paid hundreds of dollars to experience it), still need reminding that it’s NOT OK to duck into the toilet block for a ciggy! And I love this bit too: “On this flight the cabin has been pressurized for your travelling comfort”. Comfort? At 30,000 feet won’t we die without it? Isn’t that why the next thing the stewardess talks about is the oxygen masks? The world is a funny place, and I like it that way.
On board a Melbourne – Sydney flight a week or so back I read this: “Humour is a prelude to faith, and laughter is the beginning of prayer” (Reinhold Neiburh). I liked it immediately, and had a hunch that it was true; but it took a little longer to understand why.
On my whirlwind tour I found myself in stitches of laughter with friends and family again and again. In Sydney a wonderful uncle greeted me at the top of a longish front ramp that had been built for an elderly grandmother. “Aahhh, Bugger!” he exclaimed as I rolled to a stop, “Bugger, bugger, bugger!” It was a perfect moment, acknowledging with outrageous and slightly inappropriate humour the incongruous tragedy and triumph that is our life. I loved it!
I’ve been listening to laughter: mine and other’s. I hope I don’t laugh at my circumstances in nervous avoidance of the truth. I hope I don’t laugh at danger believing myself invincible: I’ve discovered that I am quite easily ‘vinced’! I hope I don’t laugh in embarrassment, or in fear. I don’t think I laugh to avoid tears. And I hope I’m learning not to laugh – as we so often do – at the misfortune of others. I’d like to think I laugh when things are funny! But it goes deeper than that.
Laughter is very empowering. Humour tacitly acknowledges that the game isn’t over; there is more to this than it looks; we still have a trick or two up our sleeves! Paul was the master at describing the improbability of faith: “Known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything!” (1Corinthians 9).
Humour is a prelude to faith because a good joke is the juxtaposition of improbables. You put together two ideas that don’t fit at all, and laugh. Or, you put together improbable facts, and believe! Faith is hope in the face of probability.
And so I have to admit that I sometimes chuckle when I catch a glimpse of myself reflected in a shop window. I don’t immediately recognise myself in a wheelchair; t’s improbable, incongruous, ridiculous, and funny!
Of course there is both a time to laugh and a time to cry. But that’s a thought for another week.