by Erin Lane, Assistant Program Director, Clergy
Posted September 5, 2012
Clergy and congregational leaders are some of the most skilled humorists I know. Versed in standing in what Parker Palmer calls the tragic gap between our reality and our ideals, these men and women know how to "crack-up" without cracking apart in light of life's tensions. If used well, a good sense of humor (like Phyllis Diller's, honored last month on our blog) can create sacred space to both name our own truths and lean into a community of shared truth.
1. Humor creates space to name our own truths
In August, I had the privilege of attending a retreat with clergy and congregational leaders called A Geography of Grace, in which we were given a curriculum of the same name to take into our faith communities. We spent days being led through the curriculum, learning how to lead the curriculum ourselves, and marinating in the curriculum during solitary walks and shared meals. It wasn't until we were almost breathing the curriculum that our skilled Courage & Renewal facilitators gave us our biggest challenge: we were to parody the curriculum on the last night of the retreat. As one facilitator noted, we couldn't possibly make fun of the work until we had made sense of it for ourselves. That night we performed a handful of skits that gave each of us the space to name our fears (and the possible perils) of bringing the curriculum into our faith communities. The skits also signaled that our facilitators were allowing us to put our own "spin" on the work and that there was room to bring our unique gifts to its adaptation.
2. Humor creates space to lean into a community of shared truth
Not all of us were initially excited about performing a parody. At the end of our time together, some of us were tired, feeling fried, or flat out uncreative. But those of us with more energy pulled together those with less for a night that brought many of us to side-splitting tears and belly aches. People who had been shy and reserved for most of the week surprised us with their comedic presence while those who were boisterous blessed us with their infectious laughter. The humor may have been irreverent but its effect was to break down the remaining barriers between us as we leaned in close to watch the performances. We had come together over the week as a community of shared experience with our own collective language of truth.
Our program director, John Fenner, pointed out that using humor too soon among groups can derail depth. But when a group has grown in trust together as ours had during A Geography of Grace, humor can act like sacred glue, holding us together in celebration of each individual and our shared humanity.
I wonder, when has humor (someone else's or your own) created sacred space in your life? What practices can help us develop this "sense" wisely and winsomely? Please add your advice to the comments section below.