No. 5: A Compendium Entry for the Journey
“The truth is that there is an alliance between religion and real fun, of which modern thinkers have never got the key, and which they are quite unable to criticize or destroy.” The Illustrated London News (1907) G.K. Chesterton
Mirth. n.s. [myrhde, Saxon.]
Merriam-Webster, contemporary: 1. gladness or gaiety as shown by or accompanied with laughter.
Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary (1755): Merriment; jollity; gaiety; laughter.
“With genial joy to warm the soul,
Bright Helen mix’d a mirth-inspiring bowl.” Pope’s Odyssey.
MakeGoodHappen with Randy Lovejoy: an essential characteristic of the life lived in response to the grace of God in Jesus Christ.
[-th suffix, denoting action or process, + verb stem]
Old English myrgo joy, pleasure, eternal bliss, salvation from proto-Germanic murgitha. Stem is murgio-(see merry) + suffix -th denoting action or process. (birth, death, health, strength, truth.) By early 13th century, "“expressions or manifestations of happiness and rejoicing, by mid-14 century as “state or feeling of merriment, jollity, hilarity. Also: Mirthquake: entertainment that excites to convulsive laughter first attested to Harold Lloyd movies in 1928.1
How It MakesGoodHappen:
It begins with humiliation. It seems counterintuitive, but the path to mirth begins with the realization that our plans for self-sufficiency, respect, and success have failed. Rather than leading us into darkness and depression as we fear, this humbling of ourselves actually leads us into awe and wonder and joy.
The opposite is also true. Self-respect requires narrowing our world. How else can one person on a planet of almost 8,000,000,000 people consider their life exceptional except by narrowing the world down to their own thoughts, own ideas, and own opinions? And when we narrow our world to ourselves, mirth is one of the first things to go.
I once heard a lecturer insist that birdsong, regardless of what the poets have told us, has nothing to do with joy. His credentials had narrowed his worldview to the point that he could no longer appreciate the simple pleasure so beautifully described by Sylvia Lynd in her poem, “The Return of the Goldfinches”
We are much honoured by your choice,
O golden birds of silver voice,
That in our garden you should find
A pleasaunce to your mind-
By contrast, all that the professor could hear when the “goldfinches returned” was a biochemical cause and effect. For him, there was nothing more.
This self-centeredness isn’t limited to the ivory tower. It is found often enough in the church to have become a stereotype of the “humorless Christian.” As some believers become more knowledgeable of the faith, they lose a sense of play. Though the Bible is filled with the color of poetry and metaphor, they read it as a black-and-white set of laws that must be followed. Pursuing Jesus becomes, for them, a humorless task.
I once met a Nicaraguan tenant farmer who had survived a hurricane. His village, his home, and his crops had been destroyed. Yet he was permeated by a deep joy that spread to everyone who met him. He had walked the path of humiliation. And for him, following Jesus was a joy.
Christianity is in decline in the Western world. Many have chosen against Jesus because of that stereotype of the humorless Christian. But we have many opportunities not only in this season, but throughout the year to express the true character of our faith. This Christmas, for example, my wife and I hosted family members aged 18 to 87 years of age. While eating dessert, we pulled opened Christmas crackers with a bang, donned cheap paper crowns, and told each other the really weak jokes that came inside those brightly colored paper tubes. (Q: Why do birds fly south for the winter? A: Because they can’t afford the train.) It was a welcome relief from the challenges of our everyday life. And though it wasn’t, in itself, overtly religious, the mirth of that activity was rooted in a freedom and frivolity that is, at its heart, deeply spiritual. It was such a relief to let go of the problems of our lives and trust, even for those moments, that we could focus our hearts and minds on having fun together.
If we are going to makegoodhappen in 2024 among our family and friends, our faith must share the joy of the Nicaraguan tenant farmer. Mirth needs to set the tone of our lives so that following Jesus can be, as it is meant to be, a joy.
Much of this information was retrieved from Etymonline.