God Laughs

The other day I caught myself randomly wondering, “Is there humor in the Bible?” 

And my next question was – “Why have I never wondered that before?”

Because humor is serious to me. I’ve noted before that I take literally 100% of reasonable opportunities to make a joke. Life is freakin hilarious, humans are hilarious, animals are hilarious… Words themselves, spelling, grammar, and of course the times when these go off the rails, are endless entertaining to me. If I go for every jokey comment that crosses my brain, at least I know I’ll be making myself laugh, and if someone else joins in, then #success. And as far as I am concerned, laughter really is one of the very best medicines for this terminal condition known as human incarnation.

I think religion is pretty freaking hilarious, too. The pomp and ego, the ways we get tangled up in our own feet as we try to follow our spiritual path. The sacred songs that sound unintentionally carnal. The silly things we humans believe about God, life, love, ourselves and each other. I can say for myself that when I’m in the midst of a melodrama, I am not always immediately interested in “laughing it off.” I believe sorrow is a beautiful and important aspect of our journey, and even wallowing in one’s less enlightened thoughts has a meaningful place in our development. But I also believe in balance, and in the creative interplay between polarities. Humor balances grief. Administered at the right time, and with the right touch, it’s balm for the deepest wounds of our existence. 

Ok, so humor is part of my spiritual path, for sure. I thought of the many very funny teaching stories I’ve heard in contexts from Sunday church services of all stripes, to Pagan celebrations of the seasons, to Sufi zikr halls, to hanging out in the woods with fellow pilgrims, swapping tales that make one go “hmm.” I am pretty sure most Christians would say their God has a sense of humor; one person argued that God must, since we are made in God’s image, and WE have a sense of humor. (Just look at all the jokes we have about God! And we haven’t been smitten yet, sooooooooo…)  

I crack myself up.


But the Bible itself, when I contemplated it, seemed like a very serious text. Plenty of emotional ups and downs, sure. And I could recall mentions of laughter. But I could not think of a single joke or humorous comment, from any of my Bible classes or my own personal reading – not one. 

Surely this can’t be so, I thought. There have to be jokes in the Bible. There are just SO. MANY. PAGES. I mean, it’s dozens of books by many different authors. It would be impossible to have that much text and NOTHING FUNNY AT ALL. Maybe there were lots of jokes woven through these chapters in their original languages, but they just didn’t hold up through multiple layers of translation. Or maybe they’re there, but for some unknown reason ignored by all the pastors and Sunday school teachers I have ever encountered – as if by conspiracy. Or maybe I just had less intimacy with this book than I thought. 

Well, I poked around on the internet a little just to see what better-prepared Bible scholars than me had to say on this topic. But first let me note that I find it rather telling that when I typed “humor in the Bible” into Google, the results that came back were all some version of the question, “Is there humor in the Bible?” This tells me that it’s not obvious to at least some other people, too. So if the Bible DOES contain humor, it’s not necessarily right on the surface.

Not surprisingly, I quickly found a few resources that told me, yes, there are jokes in the Bible. But I did not get a vibe from any of them that their authors were ROFLing over the Bible’s true hilarity. They were more like “Yes, class, some humorous moments have been identified by scholars and very devoted readers. Allow me to point them out to you.” To which I said over-eagerly, Yes, please!

This is funny, right?


This piece by Robin Gallaher Branch walks us through examples of God’s laughter – generally at those who think they can put one over on God – and notes some social commentary on the part of Jesus and other scribes which she thinks would have gotten a guffaw of recognition from the crowd at the time. A lot of the “one liners” she finds amusing fall into the category of irony, or things that are funny because of the contrast they illuminate. She makes a case for a gently humorous reading of the book of Jonah that makes me say, OK, sure, I can see it. But would any of these actually get a LOL from me as a reader, even being clued in that it’s supposed to be funny?

This one, an “Oxford Biblical Studies Online” essay by Leonard Greenspoon, similarly explores several anecdotes which, the author argues, were MEANT to be read as funny, “back in the day” (you know, two to four thousand years ago). I have no grounds for disagreement. He knows his shit way better than I do, and if he says people were laughing then I believe they were, or might just as well have been. But if I were a lay Christian looking for evidence here that my religion really knew how to laugh at itself – I don’t know that I’d be sold. 

So, it’s really been a barely a quest at all. I just looked at a couple of internet articles and indulged myself in pondering the implications of a Bible that is, I think it is fair to say, pretty sparse in the comedy department. The humor that is there is subtle, easily missed. 

And I do – I miss it. 

Oh, I love comedies. I just love a big-hearted joke-fest that’s full of compassion for us imperfect SOB’s. My favorite books of all time are both funny and serious (Catch-22, for example, or Candide). I think it’s so important for our spiritual nourishment that we laugh. 

I wonder if there really used to be more funny stuff in the Bible, if some of its humor was deliberately amputated as the texts were revised to suit various purposes. That’s pure speculation, but it wouldn’t be out of character. I wonder how much personal flavor has simply been lost to the millennia. 

I wonder if Jesus really was a funny guy. I wouldn’t be surprised; lots of wise and loving folks are crack-ups. And I guess if you are filled with the certain knowing of the divine grace permeating every atom of creation – well, surely you can appreciate that this human gig is – pretty freakin hilarious. 

The Bible may not be what I would call a side splitter. But I know plenty of Christians who can split sides with the best of them. I’ve seen how powerful faith can give a person the stamina to laugh right in the teeth of the roaringest of storms. I’ve noticed that a lot of people I respect as spiritual seekers walk around with a twinkle never far from their eye. 

And I aspire to be like that. I aspire to be someone who uses humor to make the path a little easier for someone else. I do hope to follow in the footsteps of the holy Fool, the one who gets us to see things from a different perspective and teases us into taking steps we might otherwise be too nervous to take – and who maybe offers a medicine that helps the heart to soften, to open, to trust, to heal, and to find the courage to come closer to Spirit. 

Can jokes really do all that? I think they can. In fact, I’d swear it on a Bible. 

Mural detail, Wesley Fellowship, Boulder, CO. Spiritual leaders, feelin groovy.

Who or What

Who or what is this thing called God?
God is the one who directs my studies,
who nods and smiles approvingly
and pats me on the back and says
Job well done
while another of God’s countless hands
is pulling the rug out from under my feet.
And as I go down,
hitting my head on every sharp corner,
and somehow finding with my heart,
exposed and open in my moment of accomplishment,
the one long slender thorn, hard as steel,
growing up from below,
and managing, as though destined, to run myself through,
I look up, bleeding, and see God
smiling and nodding, and saying
with infinite kindness,
Very well done.

More art from the Althea Center for Engaged Spirituality.

Sound-maker’s Prayer

Oh Great One
You Only know the highest potential of each heart
and You Only know what will call it forth,
but Oh
if you can tell us
just the word or sound
that will cause the first leaf
to unfurl from its seed-shell,
the sound that is like sunlight to each soul
and that whispers to each destiny
Awaken Now …
I do not need to know
what each soul’s mission will be;
I do not even need to know
the name of the town
at the end of these directions
that I blindly follow.
Just give me that tone
that will set each heart awakening,
and Beloved, I will sound it
with all my breath
till no seed remains
unshattered.

Operating Instructions 

I found this intriguing question today in my notes from I don’t know what. It said, “What is MY instruction manual? If not the standard extrovert directive?”

I have no idea what context gave rise to this question. I guess the second part refers to the belief I had found myself holding, that the main point of life was to have as many friends as possible and surround oneself with them at all times, a cause at which I’ve always felt like a failure, since I am so often overwhelmed by interaction and fleeing toward solitude. I guess I was asking, what if I’m measuring myself against the wrong standard? Could each person have their own secret orders? Implanted like a scroll in the heart, a set of instructions, a challenge to try to live up to, a direction to aim in? Those things that maybe don’t always come so easy, but which nevertheless I’m to strive for?

I wondered who would ever write such a thing… and what mine might say. So I asked. And here, in case you are curious, is what I heard…

OPERATING INSTRUCTIONS
for one lifetime
assigned to: Angela Galik

  1. Open your heart to love – though you fear other people – learn to trust them. Have courage and keep trying.
  2. Have courage and keep trying, in every other situation too.
  3. Notice others and their tender spots. Try to remember that their behavior toward you is often not about you. Try to see their struggles with compassion. Find ways to help.
  4. Keep in touch with the earth. Touch it with your hands and feet and body and breath. This will help you remember your unity with all things.
  5. Strive always to uncover your light and to remove, one by one, the many veils with which it is hidden. Reveal yourself to the world. Encourage and support others in revealing themselves. This helps to dispel fear.
  6. Listen to the yearnings of your heart. They will give you guidance in the moment. The guidance they give is true.
  7. Honor your creative process and give it space to take root and to bloom. There are things that the world needs to draw out of you for its nourishment, so learn to share that which you create. When obstacles appear, don’t stop; absorb them and transform them into your art, even if it takes a long time.
  8. Learn all you can. Strive to understand ever more deeply. Teach others what you have discovered.
  9. Keep faith. Remember always that you are part of something greater. Communicate often with your Source. Surrender your life to its calling.
  10. Be gentle with yourself, dear. Beating yourself up won’t help you to do better. Take care of yourself when you feel low. Build trust with yourself. Love yourself into growth.
  11. Shine.

So that’s what came… as my instructions, my orders from the universe.

Ok then. Getting to it. Off I go. 

The path ahead…

Piano Lessons

My roommate has this lovely, battered, honey-colored upright piano. Her ex husband literally bought it from the thrift store on a whim for his very musical kids. They carried it up the stairs themselves – losing perhaps a few bits of wood in the process (those weren’t important, right?). The people who played the piano don’t live there anymore (though they visit from time to time) and it was mostly serving as a cute, decorative accessory for the living room -slash- place to put the odd tchotchke.

One day last August, out of nowhere, the thought struck me that I really wanted to play that piano.

I was thinking, like, fool around, play some keys in an unschooled but emotionally satisfying way, for, you know, half an hour or so.

I sat down on the bench and suddenly had the thought, “I think I need to learn to do this right.”


I don’t know where it came from. I hadn’t been considering it previously. Indeed, I felt like my life was already over-busy with work et cetera. But I couldn’t shake it.

I needed, with all my heart, to learn to play the piano.

I knew something about the music-lessons path, though I’d never felt like that was a path that was open to me at any previous point in my life. I knew it was a discipline, and I knew that one doesn’t get very far by half-assing it. I gave myself a few days to ponder whether I was ready to commit to piano as a daily practice before taking any action towards finding a teacher. In the meantime I started working with an adult method book that was lying around.

I soon knew: It wasn’t just going to be a daily practice. It was going to be a relationship.

Full of passion and angst, joy and drama, and life lessons in abundance.

A real relationship – like where you are pretty sure on Date #2 that you could do this forever.

Then, if you’re me, you spend the next 9 months going “But WHY??? WHY do I feel this way? What does it MEAN??? Am I making it up? Is it all in my head? What’s the purpose, and why is it making me so CRAZY???”

Like wtf … … … … …

Ok, I suffer from chronic distrust of my own motives, and although I am fairly good at acting on my intuition, I am NOT good at then abstaining from giving myself shit about my choices for weeks, nay, YEARS to come. (Was that the PRACTICAL thing to do? Am I somehow being SELFISH? Was there someone else’s needs I could have, should have, tended to instead?)

Hence the life lessons. Piano is continually triggering my feelings of unworthiness. The deeper I get into this relationship, the more I find myself spending hours instead of minutes each day with this new love, the more the demons in my head start acting up, telling me it’s stupid, I’ll never be truly good at this, like a real performer or accompanist; it’s just another way of avoiding REAL work, REAL service … The kind that actually helps people …

But the sudden-onset piano virus I contracted also seems to be chronic; it doesn’t let up. However much time I spend practicing, I want to be doing it more. I could easily lose days this way. Even though the doubts are at time cacophonous, the keyboard is magnetic and it draws my hands back and back and back again.

And I get to practice ignoring the voice of doubt.

Maybe this is the true daily practice.

Like returning the wandering attention to the breath. It doesn’t matter where it flies off to – just keep bringing it back.

Come back to the senses. The cool, smooth keys under my fingertips. The breath.

I am so, so, so lucky to have found a piano teacher who helps me to do this – who gives me tips for quieting the mind and reconnecting the heart to the body – who has held compassionate space while I cried my way through lessons an embarrassing number of times. (Thanks, Gary!)

And here I am, nine months later, at the end of first grade.

This month I had my first two public performances. One song each. First, I filled in for our regular accompanist at a choir concert. Then I played this song that I wrote in a low-key show that my piano teacher organized.

Neither performance was perfect. I finished each one with my mind full of all the things I wished I had been able to do better.

But I also finished each one feeling badass.

I had been imperfect, in public, no hiding, my mistakes hanging out – and had kept going – boldly and with as much heart as I could muster.

And I think that on each occasion, I benefited from that rule that says, when you play or sing with sincerity, the angels can come in and smooth out some of the rough edges from the sound you make between the moment it leaves your body and the moment it reaches someone’s ears.

Because at least one person was touched. And I think that’s the point. Though I can’t prove it to myself logically, I am pretty sure that is the point.

So here’s the main lesson I’ve learned from the piano so far:

It’s all about the comeback,

from the moment you realize it’s not coming out like you practiced,

to the sickening panic when you’re sure it’s going over the edge of the cliff,

to the teeth-gritted determination to hang on to that motherfucker and go over the cliff with it if you must,

to the weightlessness

of playing something

with your own hands

that can carry you out over the terrifying empty space

and place you safely on the other side –
still alive

and just a hair more experienced

and less afraid.

The more I do this

the more I ignore the voice of doubt

and go do it anyway

the happier

I will be.

Baby New Year

Baby New Year

  

Last year at work, my friend and I were trying to pick an image to go with our company’s New Year message. We both liked this stock photo but weren’t sure if it fit. 

“It totally does,” I said. “Look. It’s the baby New Year being born from the lotus.”

“Ooooh,” she said, or something like that. The concept charmed us both — the sparkles of unformed possibility bursting, no, floating, no, rising lightly and cheerfully from the flower that had finally bloomed out of the mud and the tears of the past year. 

Well, alas, our idea was vetoed by our bosses in favor of a more traditional narrative, but I held on to it in my mind. I love creating alternative mythologies, and once the story has been spoken aloud, it is in my opinion as valid as any legend. After all, every fairy tale was first made up by SOMEone before going the medieval equivalent of viral. So yes, I sometimes write my own myths and then live by their morals. I claim this as my creative prerogative. 

We did use the stock image for other posts throughout the year, and every time I saw it I remembered the baby New Year. And I decided that come 2016 I would use it on my own blog. And so I made an account and bought the credits and and downloaded my very first stock photo, and now I own it. 

Which brings me to my theme for 2016: Owning it. 

What does that mean?

2015’s theme, that is, the spiritual power I intended to claim by calling up and facing anything and everything in my inner world that stood between me and that power, was Self Love. Anyone who knows me knows I have been plagued (have plagued myself) with an ultra critical, downright mean and nasty inner voice of self judgment for as long as I can remember, certainly since wee childhood. This voice kept me living in a thick, heavy shell, kept me always tearing myself down, pushing myself to exhaustion, never able to fully receive love since I didn’t believe I was worthy, never able to really share my light because I believed I was so insignificant, so annoying, so bad at things, such an eyesore. 

I began last year finally wishing to change that, ready to let go of a way of thinking that I had come to understand was warped, dark, self defeating, unhelpful. I made the commitment to free myself from that sticky mental web in which my angry judging self held my heart captive and sucked its energy like a spider drains the life force from a bug. 

The challenges came. It was a tough year for my heart. But every time life asked me to do something that I thought I could never find the strength to do, if my deeper guidance whispered that it was the path of self love, I tried my best to do it. I took many steps into the scary unknown, following that faint and mystical light. Sometimes my only criterion for success was that I do it differently than I had done it in the past. And in this way I set about breaking habits. 

And as the year went on I noticed these habits, like broken chains, falling away. I began to feel lighter. More confident. Gradually, the balance shifted and the mean voice got quieter and the voice of my heart, my dreams, my inner knowing, got louder, until it was the first voice I heard instead of the last. I began to recognize my heart’s desires as a source of guidance, longings placed there by Spirit to help me find my direction in life. 

I’ve come to accept that this voice, this guidance, is true for me. But it’s still a little scary for me to make it the practical compass of my life, to really live by it, especially when it seems to sometimes take me in the opposite direction from the current of the “main stream,” or to go against what I perceive to be the preferences of the people around m

So that’s where I am today.  Working on owning it. Experimenting with living life according to my own quirky standards, with taking my marching orders from Spirit as I try to become a little better every day at decoding the instructions that bubble up from the depths of my soul. Just that. Living from my core, my essence. Not claiming to always fully understand the messages, knowing that at any moment I could be totally missing the mark, but trying, trying to hear, trying to hear better all the time. 

Having released a large portion of my inner self judgment, it’s time for me now to release my attachment to others’ approval. It’s time to face the degree to which I limit my choices out of the fear of not being liked. 

Call me crazy, but this feels like the easier of the two. 

When I understand that I have inherent value, I have less drive to find my sense of self worth in others’ opinions. Instead of a survival need, it becomes simply a habit. It feels comfortable, but it’s a false comfort — it’s actually just an attempt at distracting myself from the underlying anxiety, the gnawing fear that I am not and never will be connected to other humans in a meaningful way. 

Luckily, I have quit enough habits, enough methods of self distraction, to know that it’s totally doable. And I also know with both my brain and my heart that what I fear is not true; I am beautifully and indissolubly connected with all of life, and with all human beings. And I also know that — to paraphrase Marianne Williamson’s famous quote — it can be far more terrifying to embrace our connectedness, our interdependence, our strength, our beauty, our truth, our dreams, our magic, and to accept the responsibility that comes with our power, than it is to imagine ourselves small, helpless, and alone. 

So my intention, my challenge, this year is to own it. To own all of the above. To believe in my worth, my lovability, my vision, and to act like I believe it in front of the world. 

And here’s a really odd thing. Since crystallizing this intention a week or so ago, I have noticed a subtle but perhaps significant change in myself. I am normally very, very, um, VERY introverted when it comes to actually talking to people. (As a Leo I don’t have a problem being on stage performing, but as a Cancer cusp + moon I pretty much hate and fear social interaction, except with people I already know and feel safe around, and even then, it can be iffy.) Lately, though, I’ve been — striking up conversations. With strangers. And the exchanges have been — really nice. 

It’s like maybe, as I begin to let go of the fear of not being accepted, as I realize that I don’t truly NEED others’ approval when I have my own, I am less afraid of these other unknown humans walking around on earth with me, jostling egos with each other and with me, like we all always do. As I am less afraid, I am more curious. As I am more curious, I am more open. As I am more open, I am less defensive, and I allow more love into my heart. 

How funny. By caring less about whether others love me, I actually begin to experience more love. 

This understanding, like this new year, is still just a baby. I know I have many layers to work through before I really get this power of “owning it,” before I really feel it as part of me. But those sparkles of possibility rising from the lotus are so hopeful.  

I think it’s going to be a really good year.  

  

No/Yes

I have this super clear memory of sitting with my family in a pew near the front of the Catholic church in my grandma’s town, attending Christmas Eve mass. The church was so tiny and narrow that my mom, dad, brother and I filled a row.

The memory is of looking down at my hands, with which I’d recently started to feel the flow of energy, and thinking, “No. That’s crazy. You’re being arrogant. You don’t have anything to say about God or religion or the soul. And if you did, no one would want to hear it. So make like an organ and pipe down.”

Ok, I was a little liberal with the recreation of the inner monologue here. But the key word rang out so clearly in my head that its echoes are still quietly reverberating today. “No.”

The funny thing is, I DON’T remember what insight I’d thought I had, and had wanted to share, before that voice shut me down so tidily. What I remember is how the No had the weight of certainty on its side.

I also remember that it was dark outside the stained glass windows. And I remember how I used to feel, standing outside at night in the winter when it hadn’t yet snowed, standing on a hillside in the heart of a Pennsylvania town that was so small, the glow from porch and street lamps stayed in pools on the ground and the sky remained untinted with light pollution – truly black.

  
I could feel the soles of my feet connecting with the earth, right through my socks and shoes. My scalp tingled and my skin sparkled and I could almost see energy arcing between my palms when I held them apart.

I interpreted this within the cosmology I was making up for myself, a sort of pagan-inspired universalism. I called the period between the fall equinox and the end of the year “the Gathering Together of Power.” I imagined magic condensing out of the cooling air like fog appearing on a window. I pictured the earth drawing its energy back into itself, down from the grass stems and tree trunks it had animated through the last season. The nights felt crisp and full.

I felt solitary but connected.

Now it’s that season again — it’s the beginning of the time when static electricity zings through the air and composting leaves release their pungent mystic gases and the stars sharpen their points. And again I’m thinking of things I want to say, and again a malignant voice, a voice that is part of my own mind, whispers, Put it away. Close the drawer. You’ve got nothing to add here. Go do something else.

But this time there is another voice, one that’s been slowly awakening over the course of this year of exploring self love. And she doesn’t say no.

She says YES. Yes. Let it out. Say whatever you want. Nobody has to care. This spring arising needs to flow.  This time say yes. Say yes. Say yes.  

Shrine to the Blessed Mother down the hill in my mom’s backyard