February 7, June 8, October 8
Chapter 7: On Humility
The tenth degree of humility
is that he be not ready and quick to laugh,
for it is written,
"The fool lifts up his voice in laughter" (Eccles. 21:23).
Face it, beloveds, speech and laughter have a lot in common! Both are
often fake, insincere, nervous or empty. Both are often employed for
no reason other than to break a silence which makes us uncomfortable.
Both are frequently unnecessary. To the degree that both are
sometimes false, they are destructive of truth and, therefore, of
I speak from experience as one of the big-time braying jackasses, all
too ready to lift my fool's voice in laughter! People like me are
quick to defend themselves by making the other side look dumb or
challenged: "Oh, I can't stand someone with no sense of humor!" Well,
the issue here is NOT having a sense of humor, all saints need that.
It is having a hair trigger on same or, worse. It's having a
catastrophic first strike capability to laugh when no one else does,
to see humor where it truly does not exist, or to be silly in the
presence of those far wiser than oneself.
Every good monk I have ever known has laughed. The best monks,
however, did not laugh easily. A knowing, warm smile with bright eyes
or a discreet chuckle would have been most usual for them. There's
another connection between speech and laughter here. Their moderate,
virtuous use is connected to wisdom, which is why the person who
rarely speaks at all is usually listened to when they do say
something. Ditto the use of laughter. If Br. X, who laughs at
everything, including things that aren't funny, roars in laughter,
people don't ascribe much to the affair. On the other hand, if Br. Y,
who is NOT given to laughter, even chuckles it is a sign that
something is REALLY funny!
Stupid laughter and stupid speech are both pathetic as a first
resort. Both can stem from thinking we know something that we really
do not, or that we can see clearly and entirely what we really see
only partially, if that. Our ignorance in such matters may be missed
by others, but those we live with can usually point it out, unless
they are too polite to do so!
Having said that about ignorance, let me jump in to defend valid
laughter and truthful senses of humor. Merely being curmudgeonly and
not laughing is definitely NOT the idea! That treats the symptom, not
the cause! Joyless, cranky, unduly serious people who take
themselves, above all, FAR too seriously, are every bit as much out
of touch with reality as the braying jackasses. Humility is truth,
remember that one? As Sheen observed, both the sense of faith and the
sense of humor are the terribly important ability to see through
things! The good monks I described who rarely laughed were not
morose. They were not so because they were holy enough to know
better! They were cheerful, joyful men. That stands in high (and
pleasant!) relief to being either a crank or a buffoon.
That's the issue here: being holy makes us humble, being holy makes
us avoid extremes!
Love and prayers,
jeromeleo@... St. Mary's Monastery Petersham, MA