Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Laughing With God

Every day at Morning Prayer we have a brief Scripture reading. Yesterday was the account in Genesis of Abraham and Sarah entertaining three strangers who announce that Sarah will become pregnant and bear a son. Sarah, who is listening inside the tent laughs when she hears this. When the stranger asks Sarah why she laughed, she denies it but the stranger insists “Oh yes you did laugh.”

There is something wonderful and deeply human about this passage. There is poor Sarah, old, barren and reconciled to being childless who hears this stranger who has come out of nowhere, tell her that her deepest desire is about to be filled. She just spontaneously bursts out in a wild guffaw, as if to say “oh yeah, right, tell me another one!”

But it gets worse. The stranger heard her. Not only that, he calls her on it. “Why did you laugh?” And there we see Sarah, probably still in the tent, with a wild, deer in the headlights look. No, no I didn’t laugh, wasn’t me. Like some little kid with her hand in the cookie jar the only thing she can think to do is deny that she laughed.

I certainly understand Sarah. When confronted with the strange, unexpected, deeply longed for, I’m also prone to laugh at the impossibility. I can receive what I long for with all my heart? That’s funny. Life doesn’t work that way and the absurdity is amusing.

But I wonder if we can look at Sarah and see absurdity and laughter transformed. What happens when we laugh with God’s angels and not at their absurd promises? God has a great sense of humor, a fact to which Sarah would attest when she did bear a son and named him Isaac, which means laughter. God is constantly pulling rabbits out of the divine hat. Stuttering murderers liberate their people from Egyptian slavery. Unmarried teenagers give birth to the Messiah. Impetuous fishermen become the foundation of a new People of God. God seems to delight in the unexpected, the impossible and incongruous.

Our natural reaction is like Sarah’s we laugh at the absurd impossibility of what God is proposing and then deny that we laughed at God’s plans. I suspect that what God wants us to do is to share a divine belly laugh. “Yes you can take your measly little gifts and change the world!” “Yes, God can take your greatest grief and sorrow and turn it into the deepest place of healing.” “Yes, God will do the absolutely impossible in your life and you will simply shake your head and laugh.” So where are the strangers, the unexpected messengers of God announcing something absurd in your life? Listen…and laugh.

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