‘Between Heaven and Mirth...’
looks at the importance of
humor in spirituality
“Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life” by James Martin, S.J. HarperOne (San Francisco, 2011). 247 pp., $25.99.
Nov. 13, 2011
Reviewed by BRIAN WELTER
Catholic News Service
“Between Heaven and Mirth” uses biblical passages, personal anecdotes and saints’ stories to show the importance of humor to the spiritual life. The book shows the psychological side to belief, and humor’s role in healthy spirituality. It is an easy read that moves quickly along.
Jesuit Father James Martin discusses joy, and its relationship to humor. He highlights Pope John XXIII, who was famous for his lighter side, especially aimed at himself: “’Dear Pope,’ wrote Bruno (an 11-year-old boy), ‘I am undecided. I don’t know if I want to be a policeman or a pope. What do you think?’
“’My dear Bruno,’ wrote the pope, ‘if you want my opinion, learn to be a policeman, for that cannot be improvised. As regards being pope, anyone can become the pope. The proof is that I have become one. If you are ever in Rome, please stop by and I will be glad to talk this over with you.’”
The author makes the point that such humor can fight the vice of pride. Humor can also provide a welcoming atmosphere, as it often reduces tension and stress, making people feel at home when they are strangers. A well-timed witty remark can relieve the stress of a given situation.
The book’s many anecdotes show that religious people, even saints and popes, can be remarkably funny and good-humored. Visitors to Thomas Merton’s monastery could never pick him out, because he was always laughing and smiling. They assumed that such a prolific writer on the spiritual life had to be somber.
Father Martin invites us to a more joyful, joke-filled Christian life, because Jesus, too, loved to laugh and tease people, as reflected in his parables.
Father Martin adequately illustrates his argument through his many anecdotes.