Earlier this week I had the wonderful opportunity to sit for about a half hour outside my church facing the beautiful park across the street. This time of year in Houston we sometimes have days with outstanding weather to savor, and this was one such day. By just sitting and observing what was happening in the park, I had an experience of the beauty of nature. But especially beautiful was watching the people who were enjoying the park. "People-watching" is really a lot of fun, but it is also a wonderful way to see God's presence around us.
As I sat there enjoying the late afternoon sunshine, I watched mothers with their little children playing on the swings; the air was filled with the sounds of laughter and children playing. An occasional squirrel darted past; a man walking a dog (which became interested in one of the squirrels) also paraded past. A friend even happened by, quite unexpectedly, and we had a short conversation which was really enjoyable. Just when I thought it was about as good as it could possibly be, (and it was really great!) a couple rode up on their bicycles. The father had their young son in a baby trailer attached to his bike. They got off their bikes and the dad began to throw a small football around for all three to play with. The boy looked like he was no more than two and a half to three years old. This became the focus of my attention, and hence my meditation.
The father would toss the football to the mother and yell to the son, "Tackle her, tackle her." Then she would toss it back and again he would yell, "Tackle! Go for the tackle." The little guy would run over and grab Daddy's leg and over he would go. Sometimes Dad would "tackle" the little guy, which looked more like they were wrestling playfully than anything else. And sometimes the little guy would "tackle" Mom or Dad. It was obviously a time of loving playfulness, and it was clear they were all having a fantastic time. The "tackles" were gentle and really more of the young boy being grabbed in a sort of hug as they fell on the ground together. But what was clearest to me was that this family was able to have a lot of fun outside on a glorious afternoon made more glorious by the presence of love and laughter. And honestly, I think I was having near as much fun as they were!
Part of what I was thinking as I watched the family interact was how easy it is to have fun with those we love. This was all very simple: a pair of bicycles, a toy football, and a bit of lawn. There were no pieces to assemble, no warranties to run out, no batteries needed for operation, and it was not passive, but true interaction. The action was filled with love. It was so very obvious that this was a healthy, happy family. It made me realize that there was the presence of God all over this scene unfolding before me. Anywhere there is love, God is present. Further, it made me realize that God likes to have fun along with us. I know that sounds a bit odd, but God is the author of all that there is, and that includes our ability to have fun and to laugh.
When we read the Gospels we often find Jesus having fun with a number of his friends. He ate and drank with people all the time. One of the first times we meet Jesus in John's Gospel He is with His friends and a new friend is being introduced to Him. Nathanael had previously balked about Jesus, telling Philip in reference to Him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Jesus knew that, and when Nathanael was brought to Him, He said, "I saw you under the fig tree." Nathanael’s response, besides being startled, was to say, "You are the Son of God." And Jesus replied, "You will see greater things than this," as if to say, “If something like that impressed you, wait till you see what is to come.” The entire interchange so "disarmed" Nathanael, which Jesus intended, that Jesus must have laughed quite a bit. It was rather playful on the part of Jesus. (Paraphrased from John 1:45-51.)
The very next passage in John's Gospel is about Jesus at a wedding, and the writer indicates it is the 3rd day of the celebration. This tells us that He was enjoying the party for a number of days. In fact, His mother was there and so were a few of His friends who would later be chosen as His apostles. He seemed to be sharing a good time with His family and friends when it became clear that it was His time to begin His ministry.
If we forget that God has a sense of humor and that playfulness is important, we can become one sided and out of balance. Many great saints exhibited humor in balance with the more serious aspects of their lives. An example of this is St. Francis of Assisi who loved to sing and dance, even playfully "preaching" to the creatures from time to time. He was so full of joy at the beauty of creation that he could not contain it. Another saint with a great wit was St. Teresa of Avila, who used to crack wise about many things, such as the time she fell off her donkey while crossing a river on the way to founding a new convent. She was reported to have looked up toward Heaven and said, "If this is how you treat your friends, it is no wonder you have so few of them!" Of course she was joking, and I know she was laughing at herself, not taking the moment of embarrassment, or herself, too seriously. Then there was St, Philip Neri, who loved practical jokes and is the patron saint of jokes and practical jokers. (Seriously!) Finally, there was Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati who really loved a good practical joke. He and some of his friends nicknamed themselves Tipi Loschi, (translated as Shady Characters, or the Sinister Ones), and pulled off some relatively complex practical jokes. These jokes were never at someone's expense or hurtful, but rather were always able to make everyone laugh.
What is important for many of us is to learn to laugh and play more, especially in lives that are stressful or harried. We rush all over at a fast pace most of the time and it is easy to lose sight of what matters. By being able to laugh, especially at ourselves, not taking ourselves too seriously, we can put things into perspective more readily. Having a sense of playfulness will keep us young at heart, being like little children, as Jesus suggested. Best of all is when we can keep laughter and playfulness in our families, such as the young family I witnessed at the park. It strengthens bonds and makes everything easier to take. Laughter and playfulness are signs of love. And signs of love are signs that God is present. When we enjoy each other, we really are living the heart of love. Isn't enjoying our loved ones and our time spent together what it is all about? I have no doubt God laughs at me...a lot... but that is fine with me because it teaches me to laugh more at myself and to lighten up. And it teaches me what really matters and who really matters most in my life.
May each of us find humor and playfulness in the midst of every day! May we have a sense of God's laughter in the shared moments of our lives! May we have the grace of interior freedom such that we can more easily enjoy laughter and joy! And may our joy lead us to gratitude and deeper love! Let us meet in the laughter and joy of the Heart of our Lord! Peace and joy to you!
Above I referred to Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati and his group of friends called the Tipi Loschi. For more insight into this go to http://www.frassatiusa.org/index.cfm?load=page&page=412
Heart Speaks to Heart