Last week I had the privilege of hearing Desmond Tutu speak. Having long admired him for his opposition to apartheid, his commitment to reconciliation, and his compassion for the oppressed, I was eager to hear what he had to say.
As he walked up to the podium, escorted by one of his daughters, he looked just every bit as dignified as I’d imagined the Archbishop of Cape Town would be. Dressed in a clerical robe, with professorial glasses perched on the tip of his nose, he exuded confidence and peace.
Just as I’d hoped, his words were full of wisdom, drawn from several decades of turmoil and hard-won victories in South Africa. But there was one thing I wasn’t prepared for. His laugh.
Oh, that laugh! (You can listen to it here.) The first time I heard it, I glanced around the stage to see if someone else had joined him up front. It was a high-pitched sound, full of utter glee—more of a giggle, really. Surely it couldn’t be coming from a man of such distinction—someone who had witnessed so much suffering during his lifetime. But as his talk went on, there was no denying it: that laugh was coming straight out of the mouth of Archbishop Tutu. And it was contagious: every time he let out his trademark giggle, the rest of us couldn’t help but laugh too.
As I sat there trying to commit the sound to memory, I was reminded of the quote by Anne Lamott: “Laughter is carbonated holiness.”
As a human race, we tend to take things pretty seriously. We take our jobs seriously. We take our relationships seriously. We take our faith seriously. We take the problems of the world seriously. We take ourselves seriously. And this is good . . . to a point.
But God never meant for us to trudge through life so soberly. As the book of Proverbs puts it, laughter is good medicine. Perhaps the best thing about the prescription of laughter is that it chips away at our pride; it reminds us that we are merely human.
Archbishop Tutu recounted a story of a woman who had approached him on the street while he was traveling. “Oh, I’m so happy to meet you!” she exclaimed, shaking his hand. “You’re Archbishop Mandela!”
He could have been indignant about her error. He could have enumerated his impressive credentials. Instead, he laughed. Recalling the moment, he couldn’t contain his delight. “It was as if she got two for the price of one!” And that giggle again.
I want to be more like Archbishop Tutu—treating important things with the gravity they deserve, but remembering that we’re also wired to laugh.
So this week, what will I choose?
- Will I be humble enough to laugh at myself?
- Will I experience the freedom of not taking myself too seriously?
- Will I make sure pride doesn’t steal my opportunities to giggle?
- Will I experience the healing that comes from medicinal laughter?
This week, may laughter bubble up inside all of us until we have no choice but to let it out, like so much carbonated holiness.
Do you think laugher can be holy? Have you ever felt the healing effects of laughter?