Midweek Faith Lift
November 11, 2020
The Pillars of Humor and Acceptance
Rev. Deb Hill-Davis
As I sat to write this talk on Tuesday, Election Day, my first thought was how appropriate to be thinking, writing and talking about humor and acceptance on the Sunday after this momentous election. At 9:30 this Tuesday morning, I had no idea how things were going to go and what would ensue for our country as a result of this election. Like all of us, I was a bit on edge, praying for a peaceful election and trying not to be too attached to the outcome. It is a bit like the statement of the Buddha: “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” No doubt on Wednesday, the day after the election, we will go on with our lives, dealing with COVID-19 and all the other issues that can’t be wished away. So here we are…..and now we know!
Regardless of outcomes, humor is our best friend when it comes to our survival as human beings in search of our true humanity for it is our humanity that teaches us about our divinity. We don’t learn about our true divine nature in our successes, we learn how our true divine nature feels in moments of deep humility, holy water and humor. That holy water comes from tears, whether it is from laughing or crying doesn’t really matter. But it is a lot more fun to laugh so hard that you are crying! It helps a whole lot if we don’t take ourselves too seriously, but it is not easy, to come to that place of humility. It can take a lifetime and some of us never realize it.
The kicker is that moments of true humility are moments when we most often recognize our true divinity. Those are the moments when we actually make the greatest shift in how we show up. When we can see the absurdity of our attachments to specific outcomes, then we can relax and laugh and actually enjoy what is there! That is not always easy, but when you can answer the question, “Would you rather be right or be happy?” with I want to be happy, and then move toward that being real, then you are on your way. Now this is coming from someone who used to believe that the only to be happy is to be right and have you agree with me! It has been quite the journey, for sure, to surrender control and just laugh at what is. She who laughs, lasts, as a minister, for sure!
My husband seems to have a particular gift for this and has the capacity to point out the absurdity in the midst of over seriousness and attachment to perfection. This began early in our relationship and was particularly evident when we were planning our wedding. At some point, when I was getting too caught up in the details and the hoohaw of it all, he said “Isn’t it great that we can plan this great big, gigantic bed wetting?” And I just collapsed in howls of laughter at the image of that! You know Todd, and you can imagine him saying that, right?! From that point on it shifted to a place of fun and joy, despite all the misbehavior of my ex-husband and ex-mother-in-law! We had a great day and one that we both remembered with joy and laughter.
It is interesting how I can look back on my life and see more clearly the many situations in which humor would have served me much more effectively than indignation or outrage! And most of the time, I was taking myself way too seriously! Humor is so disarming because when people don’t expect it they are able to respond more easily and positively, even in the midst of the worst conditions. I love the picture of the laughing Jesus and I love to imagine that he often laughed and joked with his peeps.
Did you know that the Hawaiian definition of love is “to be happy with” which suggests lots of laughter and smiles. Try substituting that for when you want to say, “I love you!” Instead, say “I am so happy with you!” and see what transpires. And when the other person says, “what did I do to make you happy?” your answer is “nothing, I am just happy when I am with you!” We need a lot more of that right now, for sure!
Clearly, the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu have the depth of self-awareness and clarity to not take themselves too seriously. In the Book of Joy, each of them relates a story of being in the midst of great pain and suffering and bringing people together with laughter. The Dalai Lama related the time when he went to Belfast to a gathering of victims and perpetrators of violence in Northern Ireland were gathered, so it was very tense. One person spoke about how his violence against the Protestants was justified because Jesus was a Catholic. The Dalai Lama began to laugh uproariously because as a Buddhist, he knew the truth, that Jesus was a Jew. There was so much respect for him that he could state that reality and the rest of the people began to laugh and let go of their prejudices and hatreds and truly communicate with each other.
Archbishop Tutu told the story of how he spoke to a group after a massacre in a town near Johannesburg, South Africa during apartheid. He told a story about at the time of creation, God took the clay and made humans and put them into a kiln like you do with bricks. He put one lot in and got busy and when God took them out they were black, like cinders. They say this is how black people came about. There was some laughter. Next, God put in a second lot but he was overanxious and opened the kiln too quickly and this second lot was underdone. That is how white people came about! And then the Archbishop laughed and the whole crowd, black and white began to laugh. And it is in the laughter that healing begins!
My favorite line from page 219 is when the Archbishop’s wife, who keeps him humble read a bumper sticker that said “Any woman who wants to be equal to a man has no ambition!” And my own reminder is the best gift in ministry I have received….the Easy Button! Thank you, Clark Ford!
So that brings us to the 4th Pillar of the Mind that supports Joy which is Acceptance, which is described as the only place where change can begin. When we can see the wider perspective with some degree of humility and humor, then we can lean into the ability to accept our life in all its pain, imperfection, and beauty. Acceptance is not resignation and defeat, it is “being with what is” rather than denying it. And the question we embrace is “How can we use this for something positive?” That is the essence of our prayer practice of affirmations and denials in Unity. We cultivate the capacity to see beyond what is, not allowing it to define us to a place of infinite possibility, to see what could be. As Julian of Norwich, a mystic of the 1300’s said, “ ….and at the end of time you will truly see it in the fullness of joy.”
The essential difference between cultivating joy and being stuck in suffering is in how we respond to our circumstances. It is an inner journey of moving from reaction to responding and the energy of each of these is quite different. In the Book of Joy on p. 225, it says this :
So many of the causes of suffering come from our reacting to the people, places and circumstances in our lives rather than accepting them. When we react, we stay locked in judgment and criticism, anxiety and despair, even denial and addiction. It is impossible to experience joy when we are stuck this way. Acceptance is the sword that cuts through all of this resistance, allowing us to relax, see clearly, and to respond appropriately.
These two spiritual giants embrace this despite all that they have endured and suffered. They are not denying the reality of abuse, war, and all the many ways in which humans harm and try to destroy one another. The bigger truth is that as long as we are railing against it without taking constructive action within our selves to respond more skillfully, then we stay stuck. We cannot change the past or what may have happened to us. We can change how we think about it and what we do in response to it.
This requires us to pursue a goal with no particular attachment to the outcome. When we do that, we show up with our loaves and fishes and allow Spirit to do the multiplying, as in the parable of the Loaves and Fishes. It is a journey of progress, not perfection. It is a journey of not knowing very often where we are or how far we have to go. It is a journey of faith and compassion and ultimately a journey of joy. In my mind and heart, it is a journey of bringing the head and the heart together in love to be present to what is. It is not an easy journey, but it is the best way I know to navigate this life. The basic premise is that whatever your life brings you is just curriculum for your growth. Lean into it with joy and when you react, breathe and regroup and learn how to respond more skillfully. When you begin to do that, you are creating much greater spaciousness for joy!
In real time, how does this acceptance bit look? Well in September, we had our Great Lakes Regional Conference, which was all on-line. When we made that decision in June, we had no idea at all how it would happen, none. We granted one another abundant mercy so that any missteps would just be steppingstones to what was next. In the midst of the planning, one of our presenters bailed out, which really surprised and irritated me. Words were exchanged and reactions happened! And we agreed that he would step down but we would have a conversation at a later time to attempt to resolve the conflict.
Well that day came, and I admit to having a somewhat uncomfortable feeling about it. My take was that he just needed to apologize for his words and behavior and all would be well. How shortsighted of me! Pray and breathe, Deb. Say honestly how this was for you and listen openheartedly to how it was for him. When I could do that, and hear his anxiety about doing a workshop online and his frustration that I could not give him any answers about how it would be and how irritated he was with that response, we could both first cry and then laugh. Each of us stepped up to own our part in this conflict without making the other the source of the problem. And then we each apologized and there was joy….abundant joy! May you find your path of joy!
Blessings on the Path,